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South West shopworkers speak out about violence, threats and abuse - Usdaw renews the call for a new protection of workers law

Date: 24 August 2021 Retail trade union 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 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.
South West voices from the frontline: These are some of the comments South West shopworkers shared when responding to Usdaw’s survey:

Bristol: “Verbal threats, right in your face, hostile and swearing, very intimidating.” – “Told I was stupid and were going to wait for me after my shift.” – “As a driver I am subjected to attacks of road rage frequently.”

Cornwall: “Shouted and sworn at for refusing age restricted products.”- “I have found customers to be very rude and have made very personal hurtful comments.” – “Threatened by a customer when I was closing the shop as I wouldn’t let them in.”

Devon: “Being told I'm minimal wage scum, sworn at and shouted at.” – “Person said they were going to smash me, beat me up, grabbed hold of my arm.” – “Had a glass bottle held to my throat for not serving a customer alcohol.”

Gloucestershire: “Being told to hurry up and you're lucky to have a job.” – “Abuse when card machines went down globally, when they didn’t get their way, will talk to you like you’re dirt on the floor.”

Somerset: “Sworn at, threatened with violence, shouted at, threats of being reported to management, verbal abuse and intimidation.” – “Spat at during first lockdown.” – “Customer reached round the screen to grab me. His hand touched my chest area.”

Wiltshire: “Horrendous name calling, threatening to get me fired, threating physical violence, throwing items towards me.” – “A man tipped his full basket of large heavy items, like bottles of mouthwash, and shower gels etc., and proceeded to throw them at me. The items literally hit me on my chest, all because I told him that there was a queue when he stood in the wrong place to be served. “

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “It is heart-breaking to hear these testimonies from South West 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 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.

“Today a new protection of shopworkers law comes into force in Scotland, but we are deeply disappointed that the UK Government has continued to resist a similar measure 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.

“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 the Government takes urgent and meaningful action. Shopworkers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough. The Government has promised to bring forward an amendment to their flagship policing bill in the House of Lords and we urge them to keep their word.”

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.

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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