Usdaw is appalled by a reported shocking 40% increase in violence and abuse against shopworkers

Date: 02 February 2017 Shopworkers’ trade union leader John Hannett has called for action to prevent violence threats and abuse against shopworkers as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) reveals a 40% increase in incidents of violence and abuse against retail staff.

Data collected by the BRC shows that the human cost of retail crime is growing, with a 40% increase in offences involving abuse or violence against shopworkers; rising from 41 to 51 per 1,000 shopworkers during 2016.

Results from Usdaw’s annual survey of shopworkers show that half of shopworkers were verbally abused in the last year and 29% were threatened with violence. 8% have been assaulted, but worryingly a third of them did not report to their employer a violent attack by a customer.

John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary says: “All too often shopworkers encounter violence, threats and abuse for simply doing their job. So this latest survey from the British Retail Consortium is very worrying.

“Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers and there is still a lot to do to help protect them. We launched our Freedom From Fear Campaign in the face of growing concerns amongst retail workers about violence, threats and abuse. The campaign works with retailers to promote respect and make workplaces safer for staff and customers alike.

“All too often criminals who assault staff are not even sent to court, and those who are can receive derisory sentences. In other cases, where the offender often isn’t charged at all victims are left feeling that no one cares that they were assaulted.

“Retail crime remains too high and there needs to be action to protect shopworkers. It is time for the Government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected.”

Survey responses: As part of Usdaw’s survey of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers, respondents have the opportunity to feedback their experiences, here are some examples:

Theft is often a trigger for violence. A member in Northwich reported that, “I was attacked at work when I caught a customer stealing – they tried to strangle me.” A shopworker from the Midlands said, “I was punched by a customer when trying to stop a robbery.” A shopworker from Bridlington who is verbally abused almost weekly and the victim of physical abuse at least once a month said, “I often have to deal with all shoplifters. I’ve been smacked, head butted, spat at and kicked.”

Spitting at members whilst they are trying to do their job has been highlighted including a shopworker from Wellingborough who said, “I have been physically assaulted and pushed to ground. Verbally threatened and spat at.” A member from Birmingham who simply said, “spat at by a customer.” In Eccles an Usdaw member reported, “a woman returned an item which was clearly used, I refused the refund, she turned violent and spat at me.”

Customers often throw goods at shopworkers. A member in Hornchurch who has been threatened several times in the last 12 months said, “I was spat at and had a basket chucked at me.” Another member working in Cheadle says, “Staff are shouted at for issues out of our control, money and clothes are often thrown at us.” An Usdaw member from Leeds simply said, “Customer threw a toaster at me.” Whilst another Leeds shopworker said, “A customer threw a hot chicken at me.”

Weapons: Members reported being threatened with a knife, including a member in Northern Ireland who said, “I had a knife pulled on me and was threatened after I refused to sell alcohol.” Whilst a member in Scarborough explained, “helping to stop shoplifters means I have been verbally abused and had someone threatening to pull out a knife.”

Verbal abuse is a regular occurrence for shop workers, a member in Tamworth said, “I regularly get called stupid etc by customers and told no wonder you’re in a dead end job.” Whilst a member in Chesterfield who records being verbally abused at least once every week, said, “I have been called a useless twat and a whore as well as the more general name calling.”

Age Restricted Sales: The legal requirements placed on shopworkers around the sale of alcohol and other age restricted products is often a trigger for abuse and violence. A member from Ashford reported that, “Drunk customers often come into the store when I work the night shift, and they often become aggressive if I refuse an alcohol sale.” A member in Pickering, Yorkshire reported that “customers threaten to beat you up when you request ID as part of ‘challenge 25’ scheme.”

Threats outside the workplace: After an incident in store Usdaw members have been told by customers they’ll be found after work. A member in Selkirk reported that, “I was threatened with a bottle and also told to watch my back on my way home.” A shopworker in Lisburn, who had already had a hoover and bottle of vodka thrown at her, was told by a customer that “he was going to get me outside when I finished my shift.” Whilst a shopworker in the East Midlands said, “a woman threatened to wait for me after work.” A shop worker in Ayr reported how a normal interaction with a customer can quickly escalate, “A male customer told me that I had short-changed him, it was all checked and balanced so he said he would follow me home.”

Physical Assaults: A woman shopworker in Chertsey reported that, “a male customer grabbed me by the collar and also cornered me against the gate.” A member in Corby has said that being verbally abused every week but in the last 12 months she has, “been pushed to ground, threatened and spat at by customers.” A Birmingham shopworker has reported being assaulted several times in the last 12 months, “I have had my finger twisted, been scratched, spat on, sworn at and had racist comments made to me.” Whilst a member in Lossiemouth was assaulted by a male customer who, “grabbed my wrist so he could take photos of me.”

Notes for editors:

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fourth biggest and the fastest growing trade union with over 435,000 members. Membership has increased by more than 10% in the last five years and by nearly a third in the last decade. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the Union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

Results of the Usdaw’s survey, based on 2,805 responses, show that over the last 12 months 50% were verbally abused and 29% were threatened. 8% have been assaulted, with 32% not reporting the incident.

For Usdaw press releases visit: www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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