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Action call after abuse of shop staff ‘soars during Covid-19 pandemic’

PUBLISHED: 12:13 16 November 2020 | UPDATED: 12:13 16 November 2020

Shop staff in Suffolk and Essex are calling for protection from abuse after incidents rose during the coronavirus pandemic Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Shop staff in Suffolk and Essex are calling for protection from abuse after incidents rose during the coronavirus pandemic Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Getty Images/iStockphoto

One Suffolk supermarket worker was told a customer would “change their face” in a row over tinned tomatoes - part of a spate of abuse of staff.

Usdaw's poster calling for people to sign a petition supporting a new law to protect retail staff from abuse Picture: USDAWUsdaw's poster calling for people to sign a petition supporting a new law to protect retail staff from abuse Picture: USDAW

Shop staff have told of violence, intimidation and threats during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The revelations come as retail trade union Usdaw calls for new legislation to protect staff, during Respect for Shopworkers Week.

One Suffolk worker said: “I politely informed a customer who was trying to take 24 tins of tomatoes that he could only have two, and he told me he would ‘change my face for me’.”

Another said: “A customer handed me a newspaper coupon which he’d been holding in his mouth.”

Meanwhile, in Essex, one worker said: “A customer went around the shop intentionally coughing near members of staff.” Another said: “I have been verbally abused and spat at.”

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

• 76% say abuse has been worse than normal during the coronavirus pandemic

• 85% of shopworkers have experienced verbal abuse

• 57% were threatened by a customer

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• 9% were assaulted

MORE: Call for action as shop workers subjected to torrent of lockdown abuse

During the week, which runs from November 16-22, Usdaw is asking customers to support its petition to “create a specific offence of abusing, threatening or assaulting a retail worker”, which so far has more than 70,000 signatures. At least 100,000 are needed to trigger a parliamentary debate.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, said: “It is heartbreaking 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.”

“This is a hugely important issue for our members and their local communities. Shopworkers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough.”

Central England Co-op, which has a number of stores in the region, has released its own figures showing that, in Suffolk this year, verbal abuse has jumped by 100%, assaults by 10% and threats by 5% compared to 2019.

A total of 10 crimes in its Suffolk stores related directly to Covid-19, with verbal threats towards colleagues and customers using covid-19 as a threat.

The food business is backing the Usdaw campaign with posters in its stores. Craig Goldie, loss prevention manager, said: “We hope people see the posters in store, respect our colleagues and also sign the petition to ensure new laws are put in place to better protect them.”

MORE: Retail chain launches ‘zero tolerance’ over abuse

Central England Co-op is rolling out measures in stores including expanding a service to allow colleagues to call for assistance at the touch of a button.

The government has issued a response to the Usdaw petition, saying: “The government is not persuaded that a specific offence is needed, as a wide range of offences already exist which cover assaults against any worker, including shop workers.”

For more details on the Usdaw petition, visit the government’s petitions website.


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