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80% of retail staff say violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers are getting worse - Usdaw calls on the Government to act

Date: 28 June 2019 Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has today responded to the Government’s ‘call for evidence’ by telling the Home Office that 80% of shopworkers believe violence and abuse are getting worse and nearly two-thirds have been victims of a physical or verbal attack.
Usdaw’s version of the Home Office ‘call for evidence’ consultation received 3,272 responses from retail workers across England and Wales and revealed:
  • 62% have been the victim of verbal or physical abuse.
  • 80% believe that abuse and violence have increased in recent years.
  • Almost a quarter describe threats of physical violence, with over half of these involving threats with weapons – most commonly knives, syringes or bottles.
  • 15% describe actual physical violence, varying from workers being pushed, spat upon, punched or kicked or attacked with weapons.
The full response is available at: www.usdaw.org.uk/UsdawEvidence
Usdaw’s call for Government action has been backed by retailers and their representative organisations. A joint letter to the Home Secretary and other Minsters recommends:
  • Tougher sentences for those who attack shopworkers.
  • Change to the out of court disposals system (e.g. fixed penalty notices) which is failing to have an impact on reoffending.
  • A full review into the response of police forces to incidents of violence in the retail sector.
The full letter can viewed at: www.usdaw.org.uk/RetailViolenceLetter
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “Yet another survey reveals the full extent of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers and demonstrates the need for urgent Government action. We welcomed the Home Office ‘call for evidence’ and we look forward to them now taking action to stem the rising tide of shopworker abuse. The Government should really sit up and listen when the shopworkers’ trade union and the retail employers are talking with one voice on this very important issue.
“80% of our members believe the problem has increased in recent years, with many citing increased levels of aggression and violence in society in general, often attributed to increased lack of respect or a greater sense of entitlement. There was also mention of the effects of austerity and associated financial hardship.
“Our message is clear, abuse is not a part of the job. We continue to call for stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers and the introduction of a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, courts and most importantly criminals.
“We are aware of the existing criminal offences that could apply when shopworkers are assaulted, threatened or harassed. However our members’ experience is that the law is failing vulnerable workers. Many incidents are not even reported to the police. When they are the police response is often unsatisfactory because of their resource problems. Cases which do progress to trial often result in sentences which the victims consider unsatisfactory.
“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 the survey shopworkers were able to contribute their own experiences, here are a few:
Problem getting worse
  • “I’ve worked retail for 13 years in lots of different areas, and in the last three years I’ve been threatened more times than the previous ten. There have been occasions where due to staff cuts no security or male members of staff have been present and men have been hanging around waiting for women to finish work. We're having to go outside in large groups or call managers to help us more and more”
  • “I’ve worked in the same store for 6 years, for almost 5 of those I never had a single incident of abuse, since then I’ve lost count. People are more entitled than they used to be and much angrier. Drugs and alcohol play a large part as well.”
  • “I have worked in retail for 20 yrs and I have first-hand experience of the issue. In the last four years I have had more abuse and threats made against me than in the rest of my experience combined.”
  • “Because most youth centres have been shut down, homelessness is at its highest, drug use is on a high and the government have no idea how real people live.”
Examples of attacks
  • “When asking for ID for products especially on the self-scan you are in front of the person, I have been called every name under the sun, I have had walking sticks waved in my face, I have had people scream at me, I have had threats of violence towards my family.”
  • “I have had a fractured eye socket, been choked by a minor swinging from my tie (I now wear a clip on), had someone try to stab me twice all in the last 3 years and get verbally abused or threatened with violence or they wait until I finish work. At least one member of staff gets abuse daily in my store and there's not a lot we can do about it.”
  • “I have been dragged out of the store and battered by a group of five men, punched and kicked by a gang of teenagers, followed home after late night shifts, had a knife pulled on me three times, had to wrestle needles out of drug addicts hands to prevent harm to colleagues, and that doesn’t include the verbal abuse I receive on a daily basis.”
  • “I’ve really suffered and subjected to some of the most horrible homophobic abuse, physically assaulted in work, punched, spat at, verbally abused. Followed home & also targeted at my home address.”
Over-stretched police
  • “The police are far too stretched and half the time do not have people to send out or it takes some time at which point it's too late the person's gone.”
  • “They didn’t take any action the reason police said they don’t have enough man power to investigate further.”
  • “In the past the police were fantastic when I had my arm broken and also when someone spat in my eye, but in last 2 years the response has been pretty poor due to lack of resources and being over stretched they used to come straight out to you to take statement, now it can take 5 to 6 days before they come to see you.”
  • “The police no longer come out for shop lifters or criminal damage incidents but you also know that their response times are a lot longer than they used to be even when it does kick off so by the time they get there the issue has gone you are just then dealing with upset colleagues.”
  • “We used to have a Police Community officer visit the store most weeks. We discussed incidents and issues during the week/month. We also liaised with the School Police Officers (we have several schools close by). Unfortunately, there does not seem to be anyone now who patrols or does these types of jobs.”
Criminal justice system not working
  • “The police try so hard to get these people into the justice system but they feel it’s a little holiday getting sent down for a few weeks and they’re back out in no time and at it again.”
  • “The actual sentence, when given, was very poor. There should be tougher sentences handed down, especially for repeat offenders. The message needs sending out that society isn't going to stand for it anymore. It isn't a soft nor a faceless crime. It affects communities.”
  • “My store has recently had a number of prolific shoplifters arrested and presented to the courts. However one returned the next day and stole more goods and the other after just a few weeks!”
  • “I have had several interactions with the justice system in my work as a manager. I think they do the best they can however with cuts I feel the evidence packs they send out can be long and somewhat confusing. With cuts in business too we often do not have any chance to fill these out and therefore nothing happens.”
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 410,000 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.
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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