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Usdaw welcomes Co-op calls for action to tackle attacks against shopworkers

Date: 20 June 2019 Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw has welcomed today’s call by the Co-op for stronger protection for retail staff in the face of rising attacks.
The latest quarterly figures from the Co-op show 2,500 incidents of verbal abuse and anti-social behaviour, with 600 violent incidents over the same period. One in four violent incidents involved a knife, gun or other weapon.

Figures reported by Usdaw from their annual survey of shopworkers show that on average a UK shopworker can end up on the wrong side of a verbal or physical assault nearly once a fortnight. The British Retail Consortium annual retail crime survey shows that every day 115 colleagues are attacked, with many more threatened.

Co-op Food’s CEO, Jo Whitfield, called on the Government to create a new offence, which would carry higher penalties for attacks where the shopworker is enforcing the law on age-restricted sales, such as cigarettes or alcohol, a review of existing sentences handed down to attackers, new guidelines on sentencing for such offences and a major boost to police resources to help protect communities and their shopworkers.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary, said: “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. Usdaw’s own survey revealed that 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. As part of the campaign we work closely with the Co-op to promote respect and we welcome their investment in staff safety. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”

Jo Whitfield, Co-op Food CEO, said: “More needs to be done and the issue needs to be about the human cost, the physical and emotional impact to shop workers and their families, not the cost to business.

“What frustrates me most is that this is talked about as a crime against a business, but it’s not. We can replace stock, but it is not as easy to repair the physical and emotional well-being of a colleague, whose confidence is shaken and who feels afraid to come in to work because of rising levels of violence and abuse in our communities.

“We must take action and work together to re-think our approach to this issue in order to ensure people feel safe when they turn up for work.”

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Violence against employees remains one of the most pressing issues retailers face, yet our Crime Survey once again shows we have seen an increase in the overall number of incidents. Every day, 115 people are attacked at work. Such crimes harm not just hardworking employees, but also on their families and communities. No one should go to work fearing threats and abuse.

“The spiralling cost of retail crime – both in losses and the cost of prevention – are a huge burden to a retail sector that is already weighed down by the twin challenges of skyrocketing business costs and Brexit uncertainty.”

Last year Co-op launched the Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities Campaign, and is working to raise awareness of the issue. The Co-op has invested over £70M - and has committed to match this over the next three years - in innovative technology to keep its colleagues safe, including the installation of the latest remote monitored CCTV; communication headset devices rolled-out to all front-line colleagues and, the targeted deployment of SmartWater Fog Cannons.

The Government has opened a ‘call for evidence’ following pressure from Usdaw, 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: https://www.usdaw.org.uk/HOsurvey

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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The official website of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers