Shock Usdaw survey reveals abuse of retail workers has doubled during coronavirus

A shock survey of Usdaw members has revealed the abuse of retail workers has doubled during the coronavirus crisis.

The union has released a poll to show on average UK shopworkers have been verbally abused, threatened or assaulted every week during the coronavirus emergency. The union’s 2019 survey found that average was nearly once a fortnight, so incidents have doubled in the last month.

The survey, based on 4,928 responses, shows since March 14 62.28% were verbally abused, 29.07% were threatened and 4.01% assaulted. When extrapolated over circa 3,000,000 retail workers, this amounts to more than 3,538 assaults per day over 34 days.

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “We are shocked 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.

“Urgent action is required. 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 contract Covid-19.

“The safety of our members is absolutely paramount, but they tell us that some of the shopping public are resisting social distancing measures in stores and can become abusive when asked to queue and maintain a two-metre gap. Our message to the public is there is no excuse for abusing shopworkers, please treat our members with the respect they deserve.

“So there needs to be action to help protect staff. We want the government to legislate for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers; a simple stand-alone 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.

“Shops are the cornerstone of our communities, but they can only operate with staff, who clearly do not have the option to work from home. We continue to work with retailers to improve health and safety for staff. We also call on customers to stay calm and respect shopworkers.”

Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “Shop workers are at the very frontline of the coronavirus emergency. They are doing incredible work, often putting themselves at risk, in order to provide vital supplies and keep people fed.

“It is absolutely appalling that in carrying out their vital roles, workers are facing this abuse, when they should be receiving heartfelt thanks from the people they are serving. Labour want to thank Usdaw for carrying out this important research and we will be seeking assurances from government that tackling these crimes is a policing priority throughout this crisis.”

Usdaw believes the figures are an underestimation because the survey analysis assumes each respondent was only assaulted once and it was conducted in mainly larger trade union-organised stores, which tend to be safer than smaller non-unionised workplaces.

The union is calling for urgent action to tackle the problem and Nick Thomas-Symonds is seeking assurances from government that tackling these crimes is a policing priority throughout this crisis.

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