East of England shopworkers speak out about violence, threats and abuse as Usdaw launches Respect for Shopworkers Week

EAST of England shopworkers speak out about violence, threats and abuse as Usdaw launches Respect for Shopworkers Week

Retail trade union Usdaw has today launched Respect for Shopworkers Week to raise public awareness of violence, threats and abuse against retail staff. East of England shopworkers speak out about their own experiences.

Interim results from Usdaw’s ‘Freedom from Fear’ survey of over 2,000 retail staff shows that so far this year:

  • 76% say abuse has been worse than normal during the Covid-19 pandemic,
  • 85% of shopworkers have experienced verbal abuse,
  • 57% were threatened by a customer,
  • 9% were assaulted. 

The annual respect for shopworkers week runs from 16-22 November 2020. During the week, Usdaw will be raising awareness of the year-round Freedom from Fear Campaign and promoting the parliamentary petition calling on the Government to legislate to protect shopworkers. The petition currently has over 70,000 signatures and can be signed at: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/328621

Voices from the frontline: These are some of the comments East of England shopworkers shared when responding to Usdaw’s survey:

Cambridgeshire: “Very aggressive man other customers had to protect me until security arrived.” – “Shoplifter punched me in the face.” – “Have had customer give me few choice words when we’ve not had loo roll, tissue, pasta, baked beans.”

Essex: “Customers following delivery lorries and trying to grab items before we could get it to the shelves.” – “A customer went around the shop intentionally coughing near members of staff.” – “I have been verbally abused and spat at.”

Norfolk: “I have had several customers lean over me when I’ve been replenishing shelves. They do not seem to realise that us shop floor workers are putting our health (and lives) at risk just to provide them with a service. It is terrifying.”

Suffolk: “I politely informed a customer who was trying to take 24 tins of tomatoes that he could only have 2 and he told me he would ‘change my face for me’.” – “Customer handed me a newspaper coupon which he’d been holding in his mouth.”

Three Counties: “Had member of the public cough over me on purpose.” – “Panic buying was worse than Christmas.  customer threw her basket at me and a man upturned his trolley on me. The verbal abuse is relentless.”

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “It is heart-breaking to hear these testimonies from East of England shopworkers who deserve far more respect than they receive. Abuse should never be a part of the job and we are appalled that three-quarters of retail staff say abuse has been worse during this appalling national pandemic. 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 and that is why we have launched a petition, which now has nearly 70,000 signatures. We were deeply disappointed by the Government’s response to the petition, offering little more than sympathy, so we continue to campaign for the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a parliamentary debate. 

“This is a hugely important issue for our members and their local communities. Shopworkers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be just a part of the job. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”

Notes for editors:

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK’s fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

Interim results of the Usdaw’s 2020 survey, based on 2,317 responses, show that in 2020 so far: 85.49% were verbally abused, 56.87% were threatened. 16.27% shopworkers had been assaulted during their career. 8.59% had been assaulted this year. The final results of the survey will be published in the New Year.

Responses to the question – In your experience during the Coronavirus emergency are incidents of work related violence and abuse…much worse 39.63%, worse 36.41%, the same 17.24%, not as bad 4.42%, much fewer 2.3%.

Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences) Bill promoted by Alex Norris MP (Labour/Co-op, Nottingham North) was timetabled for its second reading in the House of Commons, but the Government objected to it progressing and is now delayed until Friday 8 January. https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/2725

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

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