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Abuse, threats and assaults against shopworkers double during the Coronavirus emergency - Usdaw calls for action

Date: 23 April 2020 Shopworker’s trade union Usdaw has today released shocking statistics from their survey which shows that on average UK shopworkers have been verbally abused, threatened or assaulted every week during the Coronavirus emergency. The union’s 2019 survey found that average was nearly once a fortnight, so incidents have doubled in the last month.
While not all shopworkers suffer to this extent, some experience much worse with 1 in 6 being abused on every shift. Usdaw’s survey of 4,928 shopworkers shows that since the Coronavirus outbreak:
  • 62% of UK shopworkers experienced verbal abuse,
  • almost a third were threatened by a customer
  • 4% were assaulted, which amounts to more than 3,500* every day when averaged across all retail workers.
Usdaw is calling for urgent action to tackle this growing problem and Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds is seeking assurances from government that tackling these crimes is a policing priority throughout this crisis.
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “We are shocked that violence, threats and abuse have doubled during this national emergency. At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a national disgrace that people working to keep food on the shelves for their local communities are being abused and assaulted.
“Urgent action is required. Our message is clear, abuse is not 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 very difficult circumstances, working long hours in busy stores, facing abuse from customers and of course concerned they may contract Covid-19.
“The safety of our members is absolutely paramount, but they tell us that some of the shopping public are resisting social distancing measures in stores and can become abusive when asked to queue and maintain a two-metre gap. Our message to the public is there is no excuse for abusing shopworkers, please treat our members with the respect they deserve.
“So there needs to be action to help protect staff. We want the Government to legislate for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers; a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.
“Shops are the cornerstone of our communities, but they can only operate with staff, who clearly do not have the option to work from home. We continue to work with retailers to improve health and safety for staff. We also call on customers to stay calm and respect shopworkers.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Shadow Home Secretary says: “Shop workers are at the very frontline of the Coronavirus emergency. They are doing incredible work, often putting themselves at risk, in order to provide vital supplies and keep people fed.
“It is absolutely appalling that in carrying out their vital roles, workers are facing this abuse, when they should be receiving heartfelt thanks from the people they are serving. Labour want to thank Usdaw for carrying out this important research and we will be seeking assurances from government that tackling these crimes is a policing priority throughout this crisis.”
Voices from the frontline: As part of Usdaw’s survey of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers respondents have the opportunity to feed back their experiences, here are some examples:
“I had never cried in work until the first week of the lockdown. I received constant abuse from nearly every customer during one shift when the rules were changed so that we couldn't accept returns. I finally broke when one woman refused to leave the store and insulted me and berated me for not doing the return. The following day a man was very aggressive towards me for the same reason and I could visibly see him twitching in a way that suggested he was about to become violent. My job has become emotionally draining and it is really starting to affect my mental health.”
“Verbal and physical abuse from customers, it’s not nice, we are only trying to enforce social distancing but customers are using the trip to the shops as a day out and putting the staff at risk, then we return to our families in fear and panic because of the small minded stupidity.”
“The worst abuse I have experienced has occurred whilst working on the till, some customers have been extremely abusive when they have been asked to pay by card instead of cash.”
“Customers are getting worse and are refusing to listen to store staff as this situation continues. Whole families are shopping and others are meeting at the store and using it as a place to gather.”
“I have been verbally abused by customers. Pushed by a customer. Been told to shut up and ‘F-off’ when mentioning limitations or the one way system.”
“I have taken abuse when having to remove items from the customer because they wish to purchase more than the permitted number of restricted items.”
“Customer using verbal abuse towards me, and being racist towards me.”
“Constant verbal abuse/swearing. Customers spitting, coughing and sneezing towards us on purpose.”
“I have been spat at, pushed and treated as if I wasn’t there.  Customers have walked up to me or leaned over me while I am filling shelves.”
“We had an increase in shoplifters and the security was attacked twice. We have seen incidents of spitting, being coughed on and a refusal by customers to observe social distancing.”
“We have been threatened with violence and have had to make police reports about members of the public threatening to "bash our faces in" when we leave the store after our shifts. We are regularly subjected to verbal abuse, usually surrounding low/zero stock and restrictions on certain products.”
“Shoplifting is becoming really bad. We are being verbally abused by criminals and some staff have been a victim of violence.”
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.
Results of Usdaw’s Coronavirus survey, based on 4,928 responses, shows that since 14 March 2020 62.28% were verbally abused, 29.07% were threatened, 4.01% assaulted. *When extrapolated over circa 3,000,000 retail workers, this amounts to over 3,538 assaults per day over 34 days. Usdaw believes this is an underestimation because the survey analysis assumes each respondent was only assaulted once and it was conducted in mainly larger trade union organised stores, which tend to be safer than smaller non-unionised workplaces.
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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