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Legislation to protect shopworkers from violence and abuse called for by Usdaw and the Co-op

Date: 26 June 2020 Shopworkers trade union Usdaw and convenience store giant the Co-op have both challenged Government inertia on first anniversary of the closure of their call for evidence on violence against staff. In the last year store crime has rocketed by 140% year on year and abuse is on the rise despite key worker classification.
Shopworkers have been spat at and threatened with being ‘given coronavirus’ as violence spills over in supermarket aisles and today Usdaw and the Co-op are warning of a store crime epidemic unless the Government urgently introduces new legislation to provide staff with greater protection.

The Co-op has seen store crime increase by more than 140% in the year to May, despite communities recognising the critical role played by key workers in society. Numbers of violent incidents have also hit record levels with 1,350 attacks having been reported by mid-June. Recent examples of Coronavirus-related attacks up and down the country include:

Adeel Zafar, Co-op store manager in Halesowen: “A customer went ballistic at me when I asked him to respect social distancing measures – he started shouting verbal abuse, said he hoped I caught Coronavirus and that he would ‘sort me out’. It was a terrifying experience for me and the team to witness at an already difficult time.”

Claire Saunders, Co-op store manager in Romford: “I have faced physical and verbal abuse and have been physically assaulted. Recently a shop lifter threatened to spit in my face and give me Coronavirus. This is not part of our job and it is just not acceptable.”

David Brook, Co-op store manager in Shipley: “I have worked in retail for 16 years and have experienced and been the victim of many instances of both verbal and physical abuse while going about my job. I have seen many of my colleagues shouted at, sworn at, and even had glass bottles thrown at them over something as small as the refusal of an age-related sale. This is not part of our job. We should not have to put up with such abuse.”

Concerns for the physical and mental well-being of store staff continues to grow in the face of the Government’s failure to act, exactly one year after its call for evidence on violence against shop staff closed on 28th June 2019.
Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear campaign and the Co-op’s Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities campaign, are building awareness and support for MP Alex Norris’ Assault on Shop Workers Bill which has seen its second reading in Parliament postponed. It states that because shop workers have responsibilities to uphold the law on age restricted products, they should be afforded greater protection in carrying out those public duties.

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary said: “At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a disgrace that people working to keep food on the shelves for their local communities are being abused and assaulted. Urgent action is required. Our message is clear, abuse is not part of the job.

“We want the Government to legislate for 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. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.

“Co-op stores are the cornerstone of our communities, but they can only operate with staff, who clearly do not have the option to work from home. We continue to work with the Co-op to improve health and safety for staff and we also call on customers to stay calm and respect shopworkers.”

Co-op Food CEO, Jo Whitfield, said: “Last year, more than 600 of my colleagues bravely took the time to share their own experiences of abuse, violence and intimidation with the Home Office as part of their call for evidence. Yet here we are, a year on since the consultation closed and there has still been no response.  My colleagues need to have their contributions acknowledged in order to know that the Government takes retail crime seriously. This issue is not going away, it’s just getting worse thanks to the onset of Coronavirus.

“The role played by shopworkers in serving their communities, particularly doing the last twelve weeks, is nothing short of amazing and they have rightly been deemed as key workers who are playing an essential role in keeping the nation fed. Yet despite this recognition, they are continually disrespected and have to contend with unprecedented levels of violence and abuse on a daily basis. This is not a Co-op problem, it’s a societal one that all retailers are concerned about. So today, I’m calling upon MPs to support their constituents in backing Alex Norris’ bill and I will also be asking my peers at other retailers to do the same. Enough is enough – store workers need to know that the Government is serious about tackling this issue and as an industry we must be united in protecting our workers.”  

Alex Norris MP said: “A year is far too long to wait for the Government to respond on such an important issue, which the rise in violence during this outbreak has shown. Every day that they’re slow to act is a day when staff are left unprotected. Quicker action could have made a difference for hundreds over the last few months.

“I was pleased that last week the Home Secretary appeared to take the rise in abuse seriously and committed to looking into when the response to the Government’s call for evidence will be. I’ve followed this up with her, and will continue to push the Government until they provide our hard-working front line workers with the legal protection that they need and deserve.”

Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 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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