Action call after abuse of shop staff ‘soars during Covid-19 pandemic’
PUBLISHED: 12:13 16 November 2020 | UPDATED: 12:13 16 November 2020
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.
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
You may also want to watch:
• 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.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the East Anglian Daily Times. Click the link in the orange box above for details.