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Scottish shopworkers speak out about violence, threats and abuse - Usdaw welcomes today’s new protection of workers law

Date: 24 August 2021 Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed a new law to protect Scottish shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse coming into force today, 24 August 2021.
The union is urging shopworkers to report incidents to ensure the legislation is able to have an effect on ever increasing incidents.

The ground-breaking legislation was supported by MSPs after Usdaw’s long-running campaign led to the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill, which was successfully steered through the Scottish Parliament by Daniel Johnson MSP (Labour, Edinburgh Southern).

Usdaw has launched a Freedom from Fear summer campaign week from 22-29 August, with shocking statistics from their annual survey. 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% who had been assaulted.
Scottish voices from the frontline: These are some of the comments Scottish shopworkers shared when responding to Usdaw’s survey:

Central Scotland: “Abusive because they are having to wait in a queue or at self-scan to get alcohol or security tags taken off.”- “Have been threatened by violence once I finish work, will wait on me outside and kick my head in.”

Glasgow: “Had a bottle held over my head for my till. Been called a rat and been warned to watch myself walking home at night.” – “Customer tried to punch me, had threats of physical violence and called several demeaning names by customers.”

Highlands and Islands: “Social distancing and mask wearing have resulted in confrontations that have got particularly aggressive.”- “I have had someone throw their shopping at me when I have asked to stay 2m away.”

Lothian: “Lack of respect for requesting social distancing.” – “Multiple times I’ve had stuff thrown at me and once was kicked into a machine.” – “People insulting me or raising their voices when asked to follow basic covid regulations.”

Mid-Scotland and Fife: “We have been verbally abused regarding the safe system in place with regards to reopening our cafe.” – “Mainly shoplifters, threatening behaviour and verbal abuse.”

North East Scotland: “Mainly verbal aggressive abuse from customers. Rudeness, insults and shouting.” – “Customers argue when you explain the licensing regulations.”

South Scotland: “Sworn at, spat at, kicked at, punched at, eggs thrown at me.”- “Customer would not social distance, I got an absolute mouthful, said he knew better as he was a doctor.”

West Scotland: “Staff being grabbed by customers, threatened with knives, racially abused and received degrading comments calling us stupid little girls, worthless, and idiots.” – “Customers really think they can say whatever they want to us.”

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “It is heart-breaking to hear these testimonies from Scottish 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 and demonstrate why the Scottish Parliament was right to pass 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. We continue to campaign for the UK Government to follow MSPs’ lead by extending similar protections to retail staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 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.”

Tracy Gilbert – Usdaw’s Scottish Regional Secretary says: “We welcome this ground-breaking legislation to protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse coming into force today. We again thank Daniel Johnson MSP and all MSPs for listening to the pleas of our members and giving them the legislative support they so desperately need.

“For this new legislation to have a real impact, we need to make sure staff report incidents of violence, threats or abuse to their manager. We are aware that some retail workers may feel it won’t make a difference, but my message to shopworkers is absolutely clear: report it to sort it.

“We are working with the Scottish Government, police and retailers to promote the new law. We want criminals to understand that assaulting and abusing shopworkers is unacceptable and will land them with a stiffer sentence. Our hope is that this new legislation will result in retail staff getting the respect they deserve.”

Notes for editors:

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with over 380,000 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 in 2020 so far: 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.

Usdaw summer campaign week, 22-29 August 2021: During the week, Usdaw members, reps and activists will be raising awareness of the year-round Freedom from Fear Campaign, talking to the public at street stalls to promote a message of ‘respect for shopworkers’ and running campaigns in workplaces with the message: report it to sort it.

Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021:

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/FreedomFromFear

For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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