Pandemic worsened abuse against shop workers, Usdaw survey finds

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CCTV visuals of the suspects who attacked and robbed a shopkeeper in Accrington, Lancashire on 20 February 2020. Photo: Lancashire Constabulary

There was no let up to the abuse shop workers suffer during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey by Usdaw has found.

Over three-quarters of shop workers (76%) told the trade union’s annual survey that abuse has been worse than normal during pandemic.

“Asked a customer to join the back of a queue, got verbal abuse. She then returned to the store with a knife and said she was going cut me up,” a shop worker told the survey.

“Since the pandemic I’ve had abuse nearly every day, even coughed on twice,” another said.

The interim results from the 2020 survey show that over 2,000 retail staff show that 85 per cent of shop workers have experienced verbal abuse and 57 per cent were threatened by a customer this year. Nearly one in ten (9%) were assaulted.

“Yet another Usdaw survey shows that some people have responded to this appalling pandemic by abusing shop workers,” commented Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary.

“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 union is marking this week as Respect for Shopworkers Week to raise awareness of its year-round Freedom from Fear Campaign and promote the parliamentary petition calling on the government to legislate to protect shop workers.

“Action to protect shop workers is needed and that is why we have launched a petition, which now has over 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,” Lillis said.

The Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences) Bill promoted by Alex Norris MP was timetabled for its second reading in the House of Commons, but delayed until 8 January with the government raising objections.

Meanwhile, a similar bill in the Scottish Parliament, the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill promoted by Daniel Johnson MSP, has passed stage 2 this week.

Usdaw’s petition currently has over 76,000 signatures.