Retail trade union Usdaw has launched a Freedom from Fear summer campaign with shocking statistics from their annual survey. Preliminary results from nearly 2,000 retail staff show that in the last twelve months:
- 92% have experienced verbal abuse,
- 70% were threatened by a customer,
- 14% were assaulted.
- One in five victims have never reported an incident to their employer, including 5% who had been assaulted.
The scale of the problem has prompted Usdaw to organise an additional campaign week from 22-29 August. During the week, Usdaw members, reps and activists will be raising awareness of the year-round Freedom from Fear Campaign, talking to the public at street stalls to promote a message of ‘respect for shopworkers’ and running campaigns in workplaces.
The UK-wide campaign coincides with a new protection of workers law coming into force in Scotland on 24 August. So Usdaw is promoting this ground-breaking legislation, by urging shopworkers to ‘report it to sort it’. The union also continues to urge the Government to pass a similar law that extends those protections to shopworkers in Northern Ireland, Wales and England.
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “Once again our members are telling us that some people have responded to this appalling pandemic by abusing shopworkers. At a time when we should all be working together to get through this national crisis, it is a disgrace that staff working to keep food on the shelves are being abused.
“The number of staff who do not report incidents is very worrying. I totally understand why they may feel it won’t make a difference, but my message to shopworkers is incredibly clear, abuse is not a part of the job. It is really important that staff do tell their manager when they experience violence, threats or abuse. If they do report it we can help to sort it.
“Government action to protect shopworkers is needed. So we welcome the new law in Scotland, but are deeply disappointed that the UK Government has continued to resist a similar measure in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Retail staff across the UK have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.
“This is a hugely important issue for our members. Shopworkers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough. The Government has promised they would bring forward an amendment to their flagship policing bill in the House of Lords and we urge them to keep their word. Whatever they propose must be substantial and deliver much needed protections.”
Voices from the frontline: Some of the comments from shopworkers responding to this year’s annual survey:
- “We get daily verbal abuse from people attempting to shoplift, people not following social distancing measures, intoxicated people and people who have been asked to provide proof of age or refused service for intoxication.”
- “A shoplifter attempted to head-butt me.”
- “Smoke grenade set off in store one evening causing fear and disruption.”
- “Customer started mocking me and my name. She called me ‘Fatty’ and giggled.”
- “Had stuff thrown at me, sworn at, screamed at.”
- “I was pinned to the wall in the toilet.”
- “Two guys came up saying that I’m afraid of the virus just because I was wearing a mask and calling me the ‘P’ word. I felt embarrassed and humiliated.”
- “I’ve even had incidents where the same customer has returned multiple times in the same day to give more abuse, directed to customers as well as staff.”
- “Stabbed by a needle, threats to be jumped after work, spat on.”
- “Customer walked me into a corner and threatened my life for not stopping a maskless customer entering the store.”
- “Threats, verbal abuse, someone driving a van at me in delivery area.”
- “I’ve been threatened that people will be set on me and I have even been threatened with rape.”
- “Shoplifters threatening colleagues with bottles of alcohol.”
- “Verbal abuse when doing think 25.”
Julie James said “These shocking statistics and voices from the frontline show how crucial it really is that the UK government move to protect shopworkers. I encourage everyone to get involved with the Freedom from Fear campaign and hope that more shopworkers will ‘report it to sort it’ in the meantime. The pandemic has shown just how essential shopworkers are – everyone deserves dignity and respect in their place of work, and I encourage the UK Government to act as soon as possible.”