Usdaw plea to mask up and show respect to shop workers

By Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter

Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston in an #UTB mask. (Photo: Middlesbrough Council)

Shop workers’ union Usdaw has urged customers to mask up and respect staff amid a rise in violent attacks during the pandemic.

Concerns about Teessiders going unchallenged for not wearing masks have been aired by politicians of all stripes this month.

But Usdaw says violence against shop staff has doubled during the pandemic – with officials warning the rules could prove to be a “flashpoint” for workers when challenging non-compliance.

Ladgate councillor Craig Wright has called on Cleveland Police and Middlesbrough to do more to tackle problems with face masks not being worn in “hot spot areas”.

The Labour member added: “It should not be down to supermarket staff to tackle covidiots. Checkout staff should not be expected to put themselves at risk.

“We all have a duty to mask up whether that be popping to the corner shop to get a pint of milk or doing your big shop at a supermarket. We have a responsibility to keep our community safe.”

The law states masks must be worn in shops, shopping centres, on public transport and a raft of indoor venues.

Fines of £100, which can reach £3,200 for repeat offences, can be meted out by police if people don’t comply and don’t have a valid exemption.

Middlesbrough Council has sent masks to every household in the borough in a bid to encourage people to comply with the rules and mask up.

A total of 65,000 leaflets urging residents to cover their face when sharing a car or taxi, wash their hands regularly and avoid close contact have also been sent out.

This week, Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston said new cases were still at worrying levels in the town.

“The Government is now watching our situation closely – but we can turn the tide if we work together,” he added.

“Any new lockdown will seriously damage jobs and mental health, so we need to act now.”

Non-compliance with face covering rules has riled councillors in the past fortnight in Middlesbrough.

Last week, Cllr Wright’s ward colleague, Cllr June Goodchild, told councillors of dozens of shoppers entering Easterside Sainsbury’s without masks.

Preston has also urged businesses to do more this month after Tesco on Corporation Road was put in the firing line for shopers going “completely unchallenged”.

But Usdaw, which is seeking to bring in legislation to shield shop workers from abuse, has warned the covid rules could be another “flashpoint” for staff.

Regional organiser Ciaran Pinkney backed making face masks mandatory in shops to protect staff.

He added: “We expect employers to display signs to remind customers about the rules. It needs to be made clear that shop workers are not responsible for enforcing the law.

“We are concerned that it may be another flashpoint for abuse of staff, which has doubled during the pandemic.

“Face coverings are not a replacement for existing social distancing measures, such as screens at tills, distance markers, hygiene measures and limits on the number of customers in stores.

“We expect employers to keep these in place and support our members in making sure that customers follow the rules.”

The Usdaw rep rounded off by urging customers to wear a mask and follow social distancing measures.

“We also ask them to remember that shop workers are doing their best in a difficult situation – and to always treat them with the respect they deserve,” Pinkney said.