Usdaw’s annual respect week, 13 - 19 November, is when the union’s reps and members organise awareness events as part of the Freedom from Fear Campaign, which seeks to prevent verbal abuse, threats and violent attacks at work.
Interim results of Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear Survey show that over the past year nearly two-thirds of shopworkers were verbally abused, 40% were threatened and around 250 were assaulted every day. These are significant increases on last year’s survey with abuse and assaults up by 25% and threats increased by 38%. The survey continues and full results will be released in the New Year.
John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary says: “Violence, threats and abuse against workers is one of the great scourges of our society. The statistics are shocking and show that urgent action is required. Many UK workers are on the frontline of dealing with the public and that can mean they end up on the wrong side of a verbal or physical assault.
“Usdaw’s survey findings are in line with other statistics recently released. The Office for National Statistics last month reported an 11% increase in shoplifting, continuing the trend of a 26% increase since 2012, theft from shops is often a trigger for abuse of shopworkers. Earlier in the year the British Retail Consortium (BRC) revealed a 40% increase in incidents of violence and abuse against retail staff as part of their annual retail crime survey
“We really have to question whether this is a consequence of severe cuts in police funding. Since 2010 there are 20,000 fewer police, shoplifting is rising, but fewer shop thieves going to court. Only last week Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found in their third annual report that police forces are under significant financial pressure and some are failing to respond to “low priority crimes” including theft, assault and violence.
“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 staff about violence, threats and abuse. The campaign works with employers to promote respect and make shops safer for staff and customers alike.
“All too often criminals who assault staff are not even sent to court, those who are can receive derisory sentences. In other cases, where the offender isn’t even charged, victims are left feeling that no one cares that they were assaulted.
“So there needs to be action to help protect staff. It is time for the Government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault workers; a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals.
“This week our members are out campaigning on high streets, in shopping centres and stores; talking to the public and asking them to ‘keep their cool and respect shopworkers’. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected.”
Voices from the frontline: 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: “Customer already banned continued to try get in shop and steal” - “Shoplifter, told me to get out of the way or get stabbed with a syringe.” - “Shoplifters are getting more physical.”
Throwing goods: “A frozen Gammon was thrown at me by an irate customer at Xmas.” - “Customer throwing card machines insults, shouting, swearing etc” - “Had tin of beans thrown at me” - “I had a customer throw a suitcase at me!”
Weapons: “Racist and sexist comments and drunks threatening to beat people up with a bat!” - “Threatened with a needle, threatened to be punched in the face and pushed into a wall.”
Age Restricted Sales: “Aggression and attempts to intimidate when upholding challenge 25 and licensing laws, It leaves me often feeling so angry and abused I find it very difficult to quickly move on and deal with my next customer.” – “I was called a cow because refused to serve alcohol to customer who had no id.”
Assaults: “I have had a customer ram a trolley into my leg as he said I was in the way!” - “Punched in the face by shoplifter I was stopping from leaving the store with stolen goods.” – “Aggressive customers thinking it's okay to shout, scream and use inappropriate hitting of arms etc.”
Abuse: “Customer called me a stupid girl because I had no £5 notes in my till.” “Customers can be really rude, whistling for attention or clicking fingers” “On the customer service desk I was told to ‘cheer up it’s nearly Christmas you miserable bitch’ in a nasty tone.”
Threats: “A guy threatened to smash my face in with a bottle of alcohol.” “Closing the shop, customer wanted to come in - had 1 minute left open, I refused entry and was told ‘gonna kick my head in when I finish work’.” “I had lasses waiting for me outside the shop and lads following me to my house”.
Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest and the fastest growing trade union with over 430,000 members. Membership has increased by more than 17% 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.
Respect for Shopworkers Week 2017 takes place on 13-19 November. It is an annual event where shopworkers talk to the public about the problems of violence threats and abuse, asking customers to ‘keep their cool’. Part of the campaign will be encouraging shopworkers not to take abuse as part of the job and report incidents to their manager.
Interim results of the Usdaw’s 2017 survey, based on 1,455 responses, show that over the last 12 months: 62.34% were verbally abused (an increase of 25%), 40.49% were threatened (an increase of 38%). Assaults increased by 25% to 250 per day. The final results of the 2017 survey will be published in the New Year.
For Usdaw press releases visit: www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion