Usdaw says increase in abuse and threats against shopworkers is extremely worrying

Date: 16 January 2012 The shopworkers Union Usdaw says it is extremely worried by the increase in reported incidents of abuse and threats against shop staff recorded by the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC’s) annual survey of retail crime which was published today.

The BRC says that, excluding the August riots, the total number of reported incidents of verbal abuse, threats and violence against shopworkers rose by 83% in 2011, driven by a more than three-fold increase in threats and a five-fold increase in incidents of verbal abuse.

On a more positive note, the total number of physical assaults against shopworkers reduced by 62.8% in 2011 and the total number of incidents remains on a downward trend. Despite this year's increase, the BRC says the total number of incidents against shopworkers has reduced by a compound annual rate of 30% in the past 7 years.

The BRC attributes part of the this year's overall increase to staff being encouraged to report all threats and incidents of verbal abuse, although the report also highlights the fact that retailers themselves still continue to report less than half of all incidents of shoplifting (46.9%) to the police.

The BRC's survey also details the human cost of the riots and the appalling levels of violence and fear of violence faced by shopworkers in August. In total over more than 5,000 crimes were committed, including 1,860 incidents of arson and criminal damage, 1,649 burglaries, 141 incidents of disorder, 366 incidents of violence against the person and 5 fatalities. The vast majority of employers (81.5%) said their staff were fearful of violence with around a third reporting incidents of physical and verbal violence against staff.

John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary said:

"The huge leap in reported incidents of verbal abuse and threats against shopworkers is extremely worrying and shows why we need to continue to work closely with the BRC, employers, police and other agencies to reduce all incidents of shop crime, create safer workplaces and ensure offenders are brought to justice."

"While the reduction in the number of assaults and continuing downward trend in the total number of incidents is welcome news, our own survey figures indicate there continues to be a significant problem of under-reporting and that these figures remain the tip of a very large iceberg."

"Failure to report incidents is driven by the myth that shop crime is 'victimless' and a belief shared by many shopworkers and their employers that little if any effective action will be taken against perpetrators. Shop crime is never victimless and suffering abuse, threats and violence should never be regarded as part of the job."

"Shopworkers need to have real confidence that their employers, the police and the courts will support them, particularly when so many incidents result from staff themselves having to uphold the law by for example refusing under-age sales or tackling shoplifters."

"The Government must also ensure the police and courts have the resources to treat retail crime seriously. The Tory-led coalition's 20% cut to police budgets and the predicted loss of 16,000 frontline police officers and 1,800 PCSOs represent a real threat to the safety of shopworkers and Usdaw will continue to campaign for these swingeing and dangerous cuts to be reversed."

Notes for Editors:

  1. The BRC's Retail Crime Survey 2011 can be found at: http://www.brc.org.uk/downloads/BRC_Retail_Crime_Survey_2011.pdf
  2. Usdaw's latest Freedom from Fear survey (conducted in 2010) revealed that in the previous 12 months, 6% of shopworkers surveyed had been subjected to violent attack, 37% had been threatened with harm and a massive 70% had suffered verbal abuse. Nearly half of all incidents of verbal abuse result from shopworkers asking customers for proof of age ID or refusing a sale of an age-restricted product such as alcohol or tobacco. Over 75% of shopworkers have experienced problems when asking for proof of age ID. For further information visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/ourcampaigns/freedomfromfear.aspx
  3. Usdaw's petition against the police cuts can be found at: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/ourcampaigns/freedomfromfear/policecutspetition.aspx
  4. Usdaw (the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fourth biggest and fastest growing trade union with over 410,000 members. Membership has increased by more than 17% in the last five years and by nearly a third in the last decade. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

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The official website of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers