While not all shopworkers suffer to this extent, some experience much higher levels of abuse, threats and violence. Interim results from Usdaw’s ‘Freedom from Fear’ survey of over 4,000 retail staff shows that this year, so far:
- Around two-thirds of shopworkers have experienced verbal abuse,
- 41% were threatened by a customer,
- Nearly 5% were assaulted, which amounts to around 400 assaults every day across all shopworkers.
Usdaw’s annual respect week, 11-17 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.
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says:
“Violence, threats and abuse against workers continue to increase. 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.
“We have consistently demonstrated the full extent of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. Five months ago we and the retail employers responded to the Home Office ‘call for evidence’ and with one voice when we jointly called for action to tackle this growing problem. So we were disappointed to hear on the final day of Parliament that the Government is still analysing the evidence received, has not yet published their response and is still considering next steps.
“This continued delay is extremely concerning for our members; Usdaw has been calling for action for many years. Even in the time since the Home Office ‘call for evidence’ closed, the Association of Convenience Stores has revealed that there have been an estimated 200,000 assaults and threats against retail and wholesale staff.
“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.
“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, 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:
“Customer under influence refused alcohol and become abusive and threatened staff.” - “Because licencing laws are not clear to customers, I receive abuse as a regular occurrence.” - “Daily abuse from customers under the influence of drugs and alcohol”. - “Refused customer alcohol as they were drunk they tried to grab my hair and grabbed hold of my shirt.”
“Customers very aggressive when refused sale of age restricted products, particularly alcohol. They think it’s ok to shout and swear at you using language that is disgusting and personal insults.” - “ID'd someone who looked about 19, called me a 'ginger c**t'.” - “Refused customer cigarettes and they started shouting and swearing” - “I was sworn at when I refused sale of a restricted item without ID”.
“Customer threw items of their shopping at me as they were unhappy about the price.” - “I asked some youths to leave the store and they started throwing things at me.” - “One time a customer threw a computer at the manager.” - “His pie was not hot, he threw it back at me and it hit my face.”
- “Customer talking to members of staff inappropriately forcing members to feel uncomfortable.” - “Usually more sexual harassment that makes me feel extremely threatened and unsafe” - “Got flashed by a customer, have had customers grab me and comment on my breasts.”
“Shoplifter tried to head-butt me” - “Chasing shoplifters - threatened with knife and syringes.” -
“Shoplifter tried to head-butt and kick me whilst he was being detained. Threatened to find my family using social media and slash their faces.”
“Asked if I was stupid, spoken to like a child.” - “I was asked if I was a normal person or not.” - “A customer once told me he wished I’d go away and kill myself for trying to do my job helping him.” - “I have been called a fat cow and a jobs worth from shoplifters”.
- “One customer elbowed me on purpose when I went past.” - “Was attacked and a fag stubbed out on my face.” - “Shoplifter pushed me over dislocating shoulder”.
- “I have had customers shout at me if something doesn’t go right and called many names, such as b***h and c**t.” - “A woman was very upset about our lack of 10p bags and got verbally abusive.” - “People being rude and bad mannered if they have to wait more than a minute in a queue.”
- “I have been stopped in the street going home and verbally abused by a family member of a shoplifter that I had caught previously that day. I feel very uncomfortable being put in that situation as these people know where I live and are known to be violent!” - “Got threatened to be done away with because I was closing the store!” - “Threat to be stabbed, have car smashed up, to be met when finished work, called names, spat at. The list goes on”.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
Respect for Shopworkers Week 2019
takes place on 11-17 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. www.usdaw.org.uk/RespectWeek
Interim results of the Usdaw’s 2019 survey
, based on 4,691 responses, show that in 2019 so far: 65.01% were verbally abused, 41.00% were threatened. 11.68% shopworkers had been assaulted during their career. 4.75% had been assaulted this year, which amounts to 390 assaults per day across all shopworkers. The final results of the survey will be published in the New Year.
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news
and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion