Assaults, threats and abuse: Petition launched to protect retail staff from violence

Shopworkers' trade union leader, Paddy Lillis, has launched a petition calling on the government to introduce legislation to protect shopworkers from violence and threats.

Friday, 21st August 2020, 2:54 pm
Updated Friday, 21st August 2020, 2:58 pm
Assaults, threats and abuse: Petition launched to protect retail staff from violence

In response to continued growing abuse against shopworkers and the doubling of such incidents during the coronavirus pandemic, Usdaw General Secretary Paddy Lillis has launched a House of Commons petition calling on the Government to legislate to protect shopworkers.

Usdaw’s surveys of shopworkers found that on average UK shopworkers were verbally abused, threatened or assaulted every fortnight in 2019, but that average doubled to every week during the Coronavirus lockdown.

Mr Lillis said: “We are appalled that violence, threats and abuse have doubled during this national emergency. At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a national disgrace that people working to keep food on the shelves for their local communities are being abused and assaulted.

“Further action is required and that is why we have launched this petition.

"Our message is clear, abuse is not part of the job. Life on the frontline of retail is normally pretty tough for many shopworkers and has become much worse during the coronavirus emergency.

"Shopworkers are on the frontline of feeding the country, providing an essential service in very difficult circumstances, working long hours in busy stores, facing abuse from customers and of course concerned they may become infected with Covid-19.

“The safety of our members is absolutely paramount, but they tell us that some of the shopping public are resisting safety measures in stores and can become abusive when asked to queue, maintain social distancing or reminded to wear a face mask.

"Our message to the public is there is no excuse for abusing shopworkers, please treat our members with the respect they deserve.

“In light of the unacceptable increase in abuse of shopworkers, there needs to be urgent action to help protect staff. I urge the Government to listen to the voices of shopworkers and legislate for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers. They have talked about zero-tolerance, but that means very little if it is not backed up by strong actions.

“The measures the Government have agreed are worth trying and we hope that they can make a real difference. However they would be much more likely to succeed if backed up with new legislation; a simple standalone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals.

“Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”

Paddy Lillis’ petitionProtect Retail Workers from Abuse, Threats and Violence: Enact legislation to protect retail workers. This legislation must create a specific offence of abusing, threatening or assaulting a retail worker. The offence must carry a penalty that acts as a deterrent and makes clear that abuse of retail workers is unacceptable. Throughout the Coronavirus outbreak, retail workers have been spat at, threatened with infection of Coronavirus and physically assaulted.

Since the start of the outbreak, the average retail worker has been assaulted, threatened or abused every 6.5 days, more than double the rate of incidents compared to 2019. Key workers across retail have been undervalued for too long. We need to recognise the valuable contribution of these workers and ensure they are safe whilst undertaking essential work.

Voices from the frontline

Some examples of feedback from Usdaw’s survey of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers:

“I had never cried in work until the first week of the lockdown. I received constant abuse from nearly every customer during one shift when the rules were changed so that we couldn't accept returns. I finally broke when one woman refused to leave the store and insulted me and berated me for not doing the return.

"The following day a man was very aggressive towards me for the same reason and I could visibly see him twitching in a way that suggested he was about to become violent. My job has become emotionally draining and it is really starting to affect my mental health.”

“Verbal and physical abuse from customers, it’s not nice, we are only trying to enforce social distancing but customers are using the trip to the shops as a day out and putting the staff at risk, then we return to our families in fear and panic because of the small minded stupidity.”

“The worst abuse I have experienced has occurred whilst working on the till, some customers have been extremely abusive when they have been asked to pay by card instead of cash.”