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ICTU Biennial Conference 2021: Northern Irish shopworkers speak out about abuse - Usdaw calls for a new protection of workers law

Date: 25 October 2021 Retail trade union Usdaw is calling for a new protection of workers law after shocking statistics show the levels of abuse faced by shopworkers. Usdaw is taking their campaign to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Biennial Conference in Belfast, which takes place on 26 and 27 October.
Preliminary results from nearly 2,000 retail staff across the UK show that in the last twelve months:
  • 92% have experienced verbal abuse,
  • 70% were threatened by a customer,
  • 14% were assaulted.
  • One in five victims have never reported an incident to their employer, including 5% of those who had been assaulted. 
Northern Irish voices from the frontline: These are some of the comments Northern Irish shopworkers shared when responding to Usdaw’s survey:
  • “People throwing things at me, being abusive about waiting times and about not wearing masks.”
  • “I have been called names and sexually harassed.”
  • “Physically slapped by a customer, spat at and had groceries thrown at me.”
  • “High volumes of verbal abuse when either following the ‘Think 25’ policy or refusing to serve an individual alcohol who is already under the influence.”
  • “Screamed at for not having stock. Basket thrown at me because we didn’t have the ready meal he wanted.”
  • “Threatened to wait on me outside the store when I finished because she was unable to get a refund.” 
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “It is heart-breaking to hear these testimonies from Northern Irish shopworkers who deserve far more respect than they receive. Our latest survey results clearly show the scale of the appalling violence, threats and abuse faced by shopworkers, which demonstrate the need for a ‘protection of shopworkers’ law.

“It has been a terrible year for our members, with over 90% of shopworkers suffering abuse, more than two-thirds threatened and one in seven assaulted. We are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be part of the job. At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a disgrace that staff working to keep food on the shelves and the shop safe for customers are being abused. Action to protect shop workers is needed.

“A new protection of shopworkers law came into force in Scotland in August and we believe that retail workers in Northern Ireland should have the same protection. Retail staff across the UK have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.

“This is a hugely important issue for our members. They are deeply concerned that the current high levels of abuse will become the norm, unless urgent and meaningful action is taken. We would welcome the wholehearted support of delegates at the ICTU biennial conference for our ongoing Freedom from Fear campaign.”

Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with over 370,000 members. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemical industry and other trades.

Preliminary results of the Usdaw’s 2021 survey, based on 1,966 responses, show that: 92.17% were verbally abused, 70.14% were threatened. 25.13% shopworkers had been assaulted during their career. 14.04% had been assaulted this year. The final results of the survey will be published in the New Year.

Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2021/6

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


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