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Respect for Shopworkers Week 2022: Usdaw survey finds high levels of abuse and reveals that 1 in 5 shopworkers did not report a violent assault

Date: 14 November 2022 Retail trade union Usdaw has today (14 November) launched shocking statistics from their annual survey at the beginning of this year’s Respect for Shopworkers Week. Interim results from over 4,600 retail staff responses show that in the last twelve months (pre-pandemic levels in brackets, from the 2019 survey):
  • 71% (67%) have experienced verbal abuse.
  • 48% (42%) were threatened by a customer.
  • 5% (5%) were assaulted.
  • 45% said they were not confident that reporting abuse, threats and violence will make a difference.
  • 20% of those who had been assaulted did not report the incident. 
The annual Respect for Shopworkers Week runs from 14-20 November this year, 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’.
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “It is shocking that over 7 in 10 of our members working in retail are suffering abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. While a number of the triggers for abuse have been removed, such as face masks and social distancing; the level of issues faced by retail workers is still higher than before the pandemic.
“Worryingly one in five who suffered a physical assault did not report the incident. Usdaw continues to work with employers to improve responses to incidents and our campaigning, along with many retailers, has secured new protection of workers laws in Holyrood and Westminster. However, there is still much more to do, while nearly half of shopworkers are not confident that reporting these issues will make any difference. Our message shopworkers is clear, ‘report it to sort it’.
“This is a hugely important issue for our members and they are saying loud and clear that enough is enough. 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.
“Violence and abuse is not an acceptable part of the job and too many shopworkers suffer all too often. We still need better co-ordination to ensure that retail employers, police and the courts work together to make stores safer and give staff the support and confidence they need. Most of all, we ask the public to support our campaign by respecting shopworkers.”
Voices from the frontline: These are some of the comments shopworkers shared when responding to Usdaw’s survey:
  • “Spat at by an unhappy customer and verbally abused. Called the ‘c word’ for not opening an extra till. Called names told to ‘f’ off.”
  • “Kettle thrust in my face. Curling tongs hurled at me. Can of Red Bull thrown over my head. Called every profanity known.”
  • “Customer tried to punch me in the face but there was a screen between us so he cut his hand.”
  • “Shoplifter threatens to put a bottle of wine over my head if I stop him going out with a basket of meat.”
  • “Incidents of physical abuse or threats of violence have been from thieves stopped as they pass through the checkouts.”
  • “Been called stupid and said I need to be better at my job. Hit with a walking stick. Threats to come back after shifts.”
  • “Customer became violent and aggressive when I asked for ID and refused the sale as he couldn't provide valid ID for buying alcohol.”
  • “Hit with trolley. Sworn at. Knife was put on my throat to open till. I was threatened with a needle.”
  • “Refused petrol was called a fat pr*ck. Tried to stop my colleague being assaulted got punched in my face.”
  • “Sexual harrassment from a customer. Shouting, swearing and vile name calling eg ‘b*tch’ and ‘slut’.” 
Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with around 360,000 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.
Interim results of the Usdaw’s 2022 survey, based on 4,676 responses, show that (last year’s results in brackets): 71.21% (89%) were verbally abused, 48.12% (64%) were threatened. 15% shopworkers had been assaulted during their career. 5.13% (11%) had been assaulted this year. Asked “On a scale of 1-10 how confident are you that reporting abuse, threats and violence will make a difference” 45.28% scored less than five out of ten. 20% of those who’d been assaulted didn’t report it. The final results of the survey will be published in 2023.
Comparison 2019 2020 2021 2022
Abuse 67% 88% 89% 71%
Threats 42% 61% 63% 48%
Violence 5% 9% 12% 5%
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
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 – part 7 – chapter 3 - Assaults on those providing a public service etc: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2022/32/part/7/chapter/3/enacted
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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