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A UK shopworker is abused, threatened or assaulted over 20 times a year on average – Usdaw calls on the Government to act

Date: 30 April 2019 Shopworker’s trade union Usdaw has today released shocking statistics from their annual survey which shows that on average UK shopworkers were verbally abused, threatened or assaulted 21 times last year, which is nearly once a fortnight.
Whilst not all shopworkers suffer to this extent, some experience much higher levels of abuse, threats and violence. Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear Survey shows that during 2018:
  • 64% of UK shopworkers experienced verbal abuse,
  • 40% were threatened by a customer,
  • with 288 assaulted every day.
The Government has opened a ‘call for evidence’ on this growing issue, following pressure from Usdaw, employers like the Co-op and retailers’ representative organisations like the Association of Convenience Stores, British Retail Consortium and National Federation of Retail Newsagents. The Government is seeking the views of organisations and individuals who wish to contribute to their understanding of the problem of violence and abuse toward shop staff in England and Wales. This consultation closes at 11pm on 28 June 2019 and submissions can be made online at: www.homeofficesurveys.homeoffice.gov.uk/s/PVAUE/
 
Usdaw has called on the Scottish Government to back a protection of workers Bill. Daniel Johnson MSP (Labour, Edinburgh Southern) is seeking to provide additional protections for retail staff, including those who sell age-restricted items. His member’s bill has been through an initial consultation and overwhelmingly backed by shopworkers. It is also supported by Asda, Co-op and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation. The Bill is currently in the drafting stage.
 
Usdaw is running their own survey, which will feed into the Home Office ‘call for evidence’ and can be completed at: www.usdaw.org.uk/respectsurvey
 
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “Violence, threats and abuse against workers are amongst the great scourges of our society. The statistics are shocking and show that urgent action is required. On average a UK shopworker can end up on the wrong side of a verbal or physical assault nearly once a fortnight. Our message is clear, abuse is not a part of the job.
 
“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.
 
“So there needs to be action to help protect staff. We want the Government and Scottish Government to provide 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.
 
“Usdaw welcomes the Government opening a ‘call for evidence’ and we encourage everyone concerned with this issue to make their voices heard by contributing to the Home Office online consultation or visiting the Usdaw website to complete our survey, which we will submit to the Government.
 
“Scotland we hope that MSPs from all parties and the Scottish Government are listening and they will back Daniel Johnson’s much-needed Bill when it comes before Holyrood.
 
“Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”
 
Voices from the frontline: As part of Usdaw’s survey of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers, respondents have the opportunity to feed back their experiences, here are some examples:
 
Theft: “Black eye, as a result of detaining a shoplifter who was violent when stopped for the theft.” - “Shoplifter, told me to get out of the way or get stabbed with a syringe.” - “Shoplifter broke my wrist.”
 
Throwing goods: “Customer throwing card machines.” - “Didn't have enough money, threw product at me and stormed off.” - “Customer chucked a chicken bake at me.”
 
Christmas: “Customer not being happy about Christmas congestion and took it out on me.” - “A frozen gammon was thrown at me by an irate customer at Xmas.” - “On the customer service desk I was told to ‘cheer up it’s nearly Christmas, you miserable bitch’ in a nasty tone.”
 
Weapons: “Held up 3 times. Hammer-blade-scissors.” - “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: “Always to do with Think 25. It had calmed down but now that the energy drinks are Think 25, people are getting annoyed with being asked for ID” – “I was called a cow because I refused to serve alcohol to a customer who had no ID.” – “I refused to sell a tin of spray glue to a man I believed to be under 18 years old so he threw it at me.”
 
Alcohol: “Called names and swore at by a customer whom I’d just refused a sale because they were intoxicated. Pointing her finger in my face and making threats.” - “Didn't have enough money, wanted alcohol. I refused sale and the customer was abusive.” – “Ranting when refused alcohol sale when drunk and after 10pm.”
 
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.”
 
Verbal Abuse: “Customer came to checkout and was in a rush. Told me to f***ing hurry up.” - “Customers can be really rude, whistling for attention or clicking fingers” – “Customer told me to stick receipt up my arse. I just ignored him.”
 
Threats: “A guy threatened to smash my face in with a bottle of alcohol.” - “Angry customers ranting. One man threatened to wait outside for me.” - “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 420,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. 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 Usdaw’s 2018 survey, based on 6,725 responses, show that in 2018: 63.8% were verbally abused, 40.4% were threatened, 12.1% of shopworkers had been assaulted during their career, with 3.5% assaulted during 2018.
 
For Usdaw press releases visit: www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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