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Violence against shopworkers doubles in the retail crime epidemic – an Usdaw survey finds

Date: 13 March 2024 Retail trade union Usdaw has today (13 March) launched shocking statistics from their annual survey of over 5,500 retail staff showing that 18% of shopworkers suffered a violent attack last year, compared to 8% in 2022.
The increase in assaults comes during an epidemic of retail crime with official stats and reports from retailers showing significant increases in theft from shops. 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):
  • 70% (68%) have experienced verbal abuse.
  • 46% (43%) were threatened by a customer.
  • 18% (5%) were assaulted.
Full report: www.usdaw.org.uk/FFFReport2023
These findings follow similar trends to recent reports from British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores. Both retail trade associations found significant increases in violence and abuse against shopworkers alongside much higher levels of shoplifting, which is costing the industry £3 billion in lost stock and security measures.
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 a fifth of our members working in retail are being assaulted for simply doing their job and serving the community. They provide an essential service and deserve our respect and the protection of the law.
“Our members have reported that they are often faced with hardened career criminals and we know that retail workers are much more likely to be abused by those who are stealing to sell goods on. Our latest survey results show that 7 in 10 retail workers suffered abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Theft from shops and armed robbery were triggers for 61% of these incidents.
“Violence and abuse is not an acceptable part of the job and much more needs to be done to protect shopworkers. The UK Government has repeatedly failed to act in the face of an epidemic of retail crime, rising theft from shops and assaults against retail workers. It is disappointing that they have no measures in their legislative programme to tackle this issue. We support opposition attempts to amend the Government’s Criminal Justice Bill, so that the law is strengthened to protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse.
“A protection of shopworkers law is also supported by many retailers. It already exists in Scotland and has secured over 500 convictions. We also need more neighbourhood police with patrols in town centres, respect orders to ban repeat offenders and an end to the £200 threshold for investigating and prosecuting shop theft. 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:
  • “Man spat on me when I confronted him for trying to steal coffee from us. Get drunk people who try to steal, swearing at myself and other colleagues.”
  • “Regular shoplifter threatened me and another staff member, said not to try anything because he had a knife.”
  • “Shoplifter went to hit me and another said they were going to cut my throat. Had a band of shoplifters coming in being aggressive, rude and threatening.”
  • “Abuse from youths on a daily basis - threats and violence from shoplifters under the influence of drink and drugs.”
  • “Challenged a thief and was pushed and swung at. A shoplifter punched the window next to me and said it would be my face next time.”
  • “Involved in an armed robbery and attacked with a manchette. Had items of stock thrown at me by customers.” 
Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is one of the fastest growing unions in the TUC and 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 www.usdaw.org.uk
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
ACS Crime Report: www.acs.org.uk/research/crime-report-2024
BRC Crime Report: https://brc.org.uk/news/operations/brc-crime-survey-2023
Criminal Justice Bill 2023: https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3511
Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021: 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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