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Nearly a third of shopworkers are thinking of quitting because of violence, threats and abuse – an Usdaw survey finds

Date: 10 March 2023 Retail trade union Usdaw has today (10 March) launched shocking statistics from their annual survey of over 7,700 retail staff showing that nearly a third (30%) are considering changing their job and over four-in-ten (41%) feel anxious about work, all because of high levels of verbal abuse, threats and assaults.
At a time of labour shortages, and across an industry with high staff turnover rates, it is clear that abuse, threats and violence is having an economic impact and holding the sector back. The cost of recruitment, induction and training often runs into thousands of pounds per individual, so any mass exodus would have a significant impact on businesses.
The survey also found the number of incidents has come down since the exceptionally high levels during the pandemic, but remain higher than pre-Covid levels in 2019. In the last twelve months (pre-pandemic levels in brackets, from the 2019 survey):
  • 74% (68%) have experienced verbal abuse.
  • 49% (43%) were threatened by a customer.
  • 8% (5%) were assaulted.
The full report can be found at: www.usdaw.org.uk/FFFReport2022
These findings followed the same trend as the annual retail crime survey published by the British Retail Consortium last week. The trade association for retail also found that violence and abuse against shopworkers is now higher than pre-pandemic levels. The survey also revealed the total cost of retail crime stood at £1.76 billion in 2021/22.
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “No-one should feel afraid to go to work, but our evidence shows that too many retail workers are. It is shocking that nearly three-quarters of our members working in retail are suffering abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. While Covid triggers for abuse, such as face masks and social distancing, have gone the level of incidents faced by retail workers is now higher than before the pandemic.
“Faced with such high levels of aggression from customers, it is of little surprise that so many are considering changing their job to escape the abuse. The potential cost for retail employers to recruit, train and induct new staff adds to the astronomical price they already pay for theft from shops and security measures. That will have an inevitable impact on prices in the middle of a cost of living crisis and should be a concern to us all.
“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**k. 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**ch’ 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.
Final results of the Usdaw 2022 survey, based on 7,752 responses, show that (last year’s results in brackets): 74.26% (89%) were verbally abused, 49.25% (63%) were threatened. 7.92% (12%) had been assaulted. 40.88% said violence, threats and abuse caused them anxiety at work and 29.97% are now considering changing job.
Comparison 2019 2020 2021 2022
Abuse 68% 88% 89% 74%
Threats 43% 61% 63% 49%
Violence 5% 9% 12% 8%
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
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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