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Usdaw welcomes clarification that spitting and coughing is assault, but calls for shop workers to be specifically protected

Date: 15 September 2020 Retail trade union Usdaw has today responded to a Sentencing Council consultation on assault offences, which proposes the introduction of ‘intention to cause fear of serious harm, including disease transmission’ as a high culpability factor, with 'spitting or coughing' as an aggravating factor. Usdaw welcomes this, but says it needs to be clearer that all workers who provide a service to the public in the course of their employment are covered and specifically retail workers.
Paddy Lillis- Usdaw General Secretary says: “Spitting and coughing at someone with the intent of causing harm is a vile assault, so we welcome that the Sentencing Council are looking at this. Spitting has long been a feature of assaults on shop workers, as well as the threat of spitting. Sometimes it is deliberate, when spit is used as a weapon; other times it occurs when customers are extremely angry and end up spitting when shouting.
“We are appalled that violence, threats and abuse have doubled during this national emergency, as compared to 2019, with many shop workers saying spitting and coughing increased during the pandemic. 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.
“Further action is required and that is why we have launched this petition. Our message is clear, abuse is not just a part of the job. Life on the frontline of retail is normally pretty tough for many shopworkers and has become much worse during the coronavirus emergency.
“Shopworkers are on the frontline of feeding the country, providing an essential service in difficult circumstances. They have an essential role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”
The petition can be signed at: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/328621
Usdaw’s ‘Coronavirus impact’ survey – below are some the comments we received about spitting from respondents:
  • “I was threatened with a customer spitting in my face if I didn't get him an item.”
  • “A man wasn’t happy he had to queue for a newspaper, so he came in my face shouting & spiting he was that angry & the driver making a delivery to our store had to step in to stop the man. It was very scary and upsetting.”
  • “Abuse over not having stock. Swearing at myself and being told to die I’m too old any way. Spitting on floor.”
  • “Constant verbal abuse/swearing. Customers spitting, coughing and sneezing towards us on purpose.”
  • “We have had someone actually spit in the store which was on the news recently, luckily he was arrested but not after it took 3 members of staff, security and police officers to wrestle him to the ground.”
  • “A member of staff has had a customer threaten to spit in their face for being asked to follow the one way system.”
  • “Customers are putting notes in their mouth while waiting to be served and spitting to at you.”
  • “We have seen incidents of spitting, being coughed on and a refusal by customers and some staff to observe social distancing.”
  • “Customer spitting on me for only being allowed to sell one box of paracetamol.”
  • “Gangs coming in and spitting.”
  • “I witnessed a man spit into a colleague’s face for not allowing him to take 12 toilet rolls.”
  • “Wearing the masks to shoplift and threatening to cough and spit at you.”
  • “Most of the customers are ok, some older people can swear a lot at you as there was no food around the first few weeks, but the second week I got spat at, that was disgusting.”
  • “Customers can be rude and selfish, I witnessed spitting and actual bodily harm to a manager.”
  • “I’ve seen some spitting at colleagues, very upsetting and scary.”
  • “Even had a customer spit in security guard’s face.”
  • “Shoplifters threatening to spit and cough on you.”
  • “We had a shoplifter threaten to give us the Covid19 by spitting on our faces.”
  • “A man would not stand in the correct areas so he started shouting abuse at me, but when he was shouting he was spitting at the same time.”
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.
Sentencing Council consultation: https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Assault-Offences-Consultation-final-web.doc.pdf
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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