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Respect for Shopworkers’ Week 2023: Shoplifting triggers staggering levels of abuse against retail staff, Usdaw survey shows

Date: 13 November 2023 Retail trade union Usdaw has today (13 November) launched shocking statistics from their annual survey at the beginning of this year’s Respect for Shopworkers Week. Interim results from over 3,000 retail staff responses show that in the last twelve months:
  • 65% have experienced verbal abuse.
  • 42% were threatened by a customer.
  • 5% were assaulted.
  • 60% of these incidents were triggered by shoplifting and two-thirds of those were linked to addiction.
The annual Respect for Shopworkers Week runs from 13-19 November, with Usdaw members raising awareness of the union’s year-round Freedom from Fear Campaign and talking to the public to promote a message of ‘respect for shopworkers’ and to campaign for a standalone offence of assaulting or abusing shopworkers, which already exists in Scotland.
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “It is shocking that two-thirds of our members working in retail are suffering abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Six in ten of these incidents were triggered by theft from shops, which is clearly the result of a 25% increase in police recorded shoplifting.
“Our survey demonstrates that shoplifting is not a victimless crime, theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers. Having to deal with repeated and persistent shoplifters can cause issues beyond the theft itself like anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers. Our members are reporting that they are often faced with hardened career criminals in their stores and much of the abuse they suffer is from those who are stealing to sell goods on, often to fund an addiction.
“Regrettably the Government is not delivering the change we need on retail crime. They are not tackling the perception that theft from shops has effectively been decriminalised by a series of policies over the last thirteen years. Issuing fixed penalty notices for shop thefts under £200 has led to fewer crimes being investigated and prosecuted. Fewer uniformed officers patrolling shopping areas gives criminals more confidence. Conservative MPs repeatedly voted down a protection of workers law, which already exists in Scotland. Last month’s downgrading of punishment for what they refer to as ‘low-level’ crimes only adds to the perception that theft from shops is not being taken seriously.
“This week Usdaw activists will be campaigning in their workplaces and communities calling on the shopping public to ‘respect shopworkers’ and ‘keep your cool’, particularly in the run-up to Christmas when the number of incidents increases as shops get busy and customers become frustrated. This is a hugely important issue for our members and they are saying loud and clear that enough is enough.”
Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Usdaw’s annual survey highlights the shameful levels of abuse directed at our dedicated retail workers. Our own research shows more than 850 incidents of violence or abuse every single day. The victims are teenagers taking on their first job, carers looking for part-time work, parents working around childcare. While the violence can be over in a moment, the victims carry these experiences with them for a lifetime. And we all know the impact does not stop there – it affects their colleagues, friends, and the family our colleagues go home to.
“Retailer workers are suffering while Government dithers. We need a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening, or abusing a retail worker. This would act as a deterrent and provide a clear message that Government will not tolerate this behaviour. It would also require police forces to record all incidents of retail crime, allowing for better allocation of resources to the issue. Parliament must send a clear signal that violence and abuse against retail workers will not be tolerated any longer.”
Voices from the frontline: These are some of the comments shopworkers shared when responding to Usdaw’s survey:
  • “Man spat on me when I confronted him for trying to steal coffee from us. Get drunk people who try to steal, swearing at myself and other colleagues.”
  • “Regular shoplifter threatened me and another staff member, said not to try anything because he had a knife.”
  • “Shoplifter went to hit me and another said they were going to cut my throat. Had a band of shoplifters coming in being aggressive, rude and threatening.”
  • “Abuse from youths on a daily basis - threats and violence from shoplifters under the influence of drink and drugs.”
  • “Challenged a thief and was pushed and swung at. A shoplifter punched the window next to me and said it would be my face next time.”
  • “Involved in an armed robbery and attacked with a manchette. Had items of stock thrown at me by customers.” 
Notes for editors:

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with over 350,000 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 www.usdaw.org.uk

Interim results of the Usdaw’s 2023 survey, based on 3,082 responses, show that: 65.44% were verbally abused, 42.74% were threatened. 17.52% shopworkers had been assaulted during their career. 4.81% had been assaulted this year. Of those who were abused, threatened or assaulted, 59.71% said that shoplifting was the trigger and their assessment of the underlying issues was 64.07% related to a drug and/or alcohol addiction. The final results of the survey will be published in 2023.
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
Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2021/6
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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