Alongside shopworkers trade union leader Paddy Lillis, the meeting was addressed by Jo Whitfield (Chief Executive of Co-op Food), Sarah Jones MP (Labour, Croydon Central and Shadow Minister for Policing), Katy Bourne OBE (Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex) and Alex Norris MP (Labour/Co-op, Nottingham North).
Opening the meeting, Paddy Lillis - Usdaw General Secretary said:
“I would like to thank the Co-op for their commitment to tackling abuse, threats and violence against retail staff. Usdaw takes the issue of violence and abuse against shopworkers incredibly seriously.
“Since 2002, Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear Campaign has been working each year to highlight the need for respect for shopworkers. We have organised campaigns to get the attention of the public. We have worked together with employers in a partnership to highlight the problem of abuse against shopworkers. We have campaigned to appeal to politicians, police forces and the Home Office. We have worked with employers to jointly review internal policies. Despite these efforts, abuse against retail workers has continued to increase.
“Prior to the coronavirus crisis, Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear survey showed that 68% of retail workers were abused as part of their job last year and these figures are matched by similar surveys from the British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores. All of these surveys have highlighted how the abuse is getting worse. An ever growing number of our members are reporting being attacked with weapons such as knives and baseball bats.
“Unfortunately, the situation appears to have got worse during the current coronavirus crisis. In the first months of the Covid crisis we carried out a survey of members on their experiences. We found that incidents against retail staff had doubled. The Covid-secure social distancing measures put in place to protect the shopping public, had become flashpoints for abuse directed against retail workers.
“This is a shocking and unacceptable state of affairs. Earlier this week, Usdaw released the interim figures from our annual Freedom From Fear survey. The results capture the experiences of retail workers right across the UK. They paint a depressing picture of the retail workers taking part in the survey, 85% have been abused during the last year, 57% have been threatened by a customer and nearly one in ten has been physically assaulted.
“During the current coronavirus crisis, retail workers have taken risks to go to work. They have been on the frontline where the risk of catching Covid is very real. They have been key workers ensuring that everyone has access to food on the shelves of our supermarkets.
“The vast majority of the public have been very supportive. They have acknowledged the role of retail workers. One positive from the crisis has been that retail workers have finally, and quite rightly, been recognised as key workers. Most of the public have supported shopworkers as they implement social distancing rules in our shops.
“Unfortunately, however, a small minority of the public have abused and turned on the very people helping to ensure that they have access to food in our shops. The behaviour of that anti-social minority must be tackled. Workers in retail must be respected, valued and supported. We need to make sure the message goes out loud and clear - abuse is not part of the job.
“In the summer, Usdaw launched a Parliamentary Petition calling on the Government to legislate to make it a specific offence to assault or abuse a retail worker. Over 77,000 people have so far signed the petition which is a fantastic response, but our aim is to get to 100,000 signatures, because it is then considered for debate in Parliament.
“I am very pleased that we’ve been able to gather so many key stakeholders at this meeting today and I hope that we can leave this meeting with an industry-wide plan to eradicate abuse, threats and violence towards retail staff.”
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.
Attendees at today’s meeting:
Association of Convenience Stores, Aldi, Association of Police and Crime Commisioners, Asda, Boots, British Retail Consortium, Central England Co-op, Co-op Group, Homebase, Iceland, Ikea, McColls, Midcounties Co-operative, Morrisons, National Business Crime Centre, Nisa, Nationwide, Sainsbury’s, Southern Co-op, Tesco, Usdaw.
Usdaw petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/328621
Interim results of the Usdaw’s 2020 survey
, based on 2,317 responses, show that in 2020 so far: 85.49% were verbally abused, 56.87% were threatened. 16.27% shopworkers had been assaulted during their career. 8.59% had been assaulted this year. The final results of the survey will be published in the New Year. Responses to the question - In your experience during the coronavirus emergency are incidents of work related violence and abuse…much worse 39.63%, worse 36.41%, the same 17.24%, not as bad 4.42%, much fewer 2.3%.
Respect for Shopworkers Week 2020
takes place on 16-22 November. It is an annual event where shopworkers ask the public 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/Campaigns/Freedom-From-Fear/Campaign-Materials
Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences) Bill
promoted by Alex Norris MP (Labour/Co-op, Nottingham North) was timetabled for its second reading in the House of Commons, but the Government objected to its progressing and is now delayed until Friday 8 January. https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/2725
Usdaw’s Freedom from Fear Campaign
seeks to prevent violence, threats and abuse against workers by engaging the public, shopworkers and the Government. www.usdaw.org.uk/Campaigns/Freedom-From-Fear
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news
and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion