Shop workers tell of violence, abuse and 'threats to cough on us'

Central England Co-op is backing Usdaw's campaign against violence and abuse to shop workers  

Central England Co-op, which has a number of stores in Suffolk, is backing Usdaw's campaign against violence and abuse to shop workers - Credit: Alex Cantrill-Jones/Central England Co-op

Suffolk and Essex shop workers have told of violence, threats and abuse during the Covid pandemic - including threats to cough on staff.

The revelations come as retail trade union Usdaw launches its Freedom from Fear summer campaign week, running from August 22-29.

Central England Co-op is backing Usdaw's campaign to protect shop workers against violence and abuse

Central England Co-op, which has a number of stores in Suffolk, is backing Usdaw's campaign to protect shop workers against violence and abuse - Credit: Alex Cantrill-Jones/Central England Co-op

Despite all the public gratitude to key workers, results of the Usdaw survey show that, nationally, in the last 12 months 92% of retail workers have experienced verbal abuse. 

It also found that 70% of those questioned had been threatened by a customer and 14% were assaulted.

The survey, of nearly 2,000 retail staff across the UK,  also found one in five victims have never reported an incident to their employer, including 5% who had been assaulted.


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Suffolk shop workers answering the survey said threats were mostly about masks and Covid rules; one shopworker said: “especially during the pandemic, people deliberately coughing on us when offering them a mask."

Another said: “A banned customer threw a bag of coal at me and stormed out.”

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In Essex, one store worker said: "I had coins thrown in my face", while another had been sworn at by someone in the store because some customers  were not wearing masks.

Drink was also involved in the abuse. One person surveyed said: “A lot of drunk people come in the shop and think it's OK to shout and swear at you." Another said: “A woman threatened to punch me as I refused an alcohol purchase.”

Central England Co-op, which has a number of stores in Suffolk, is backing the Usdaw campaign and has put up posters asking customers to sign an online petition calling for a new law to better protect colleagues.

The retailer revealed that, in the last 12 months in its Suffolk stores, verbal abuse jumped by 151%, anti-social behaviour by 32%, assaults by 15% and threats by 25% compared to 2019.

It also revealed more than 300 crimes related directly to Covid-19 had been recorded in its stores since the start of the pandemic.

This included 21 crimes in stores in the Suffolk area, mainly involving threats to cough on colleagues or other customers.

Central England Co-op is rolling out a range of different measures in stores including expanding a service it uses that allows colleagues to call for assistance at the touch of a button, and putting tracking devices in more products to deter would-be thieves.

East of England Co-op, which also has stores across the area, had also seen a rise in anti-social behaviour, again linked to Covid measures.

A spokesman for the retailer said: “Whilst most of our customers have been overwhelmingly considerate and supportive of our colleagues, over the past year we have seen an increase in reported cases of anti-social behaviour.

"According to our records, this growth was as a result of the evolving guidance around social distancing and other safety measures due to Covid-19. 

“We take any form of anti-social behaviour very seriously. Our highly trained and dedicated support officers continue to work closely with our local police forces to tackle criminal behaviour towards our colleagues. All incidents are reported to our central response centre.  

“We’re incredibly grateful and proud of our colleagues who have and continue to provide a vital service to our communities in these extraordinary times.” 


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