Shop workers endure sharp rise in abuse & threats in wake of coronavirus

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Shop workers endure sharp rise in abuse & threats in wake of coronavirus
Usdaw has called for urgent action to tackle the growing problem.
// A survey from Usdaw shows that incidents have doubled since March 14, up from once a fortnight last year
// Since March 14, 62.2% have been verbally abused, 29% threatened and 4% reported a physical assault
// An estimated 3500 assaults per day took place since the coronavirus pandemic gripped the UK

Shop workers have been verbally abused, threatened or assaulted every week during the coronavirus crisis, according to “shocking” new research.

A survey by the Usdaw union suggested that incidents have doubled since March 14, up from once a fortnight last year.

The survey found that in the last 34 days, 62.2 per cent of shop workers had been verbally abused, 29 per cent had been threatened and four per cent had reported a physical assault by a member of the public.


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Usdaw surveyed almost 5000 workers, and when extrapolated across the three million-strong UK retail workforce, it estimated that there has been an average of 3500 assaults per day since the coronavirus pandemic gripped the country.

The data prompted Usdaw to call for urgent action to tackle the growing problem.

“We are shocked that violence, threats and abuse have doubled during this national emergency,” Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said.

“At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a national disgrace that people working to keep food on the shelves for their local communities are being abused and assaulted.

“Urgent action is required. Our message is clear: abuse is not part of the job.

“Life on the front line of retail is normally pretty tough for many shop workers and has become much worse during the coronavirus emergency.

“Shop workers are on the front line of feeding the country, providing an essential service in very difficult circumstances, working long hours in busy stores, facing abuse from customers and of course concerned they may contract Covid-19.

“The safety of our members is absolutely paramount, but they tell us that some of the shopping public are resisting social distancing measures in stores and can become abusive when asked to queue and maintain a two-metre gap.

“We want the Government to legislate for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers, a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and, most importantly, criminals.”

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “Shop workers are at the very front line of the coronavirus emergency.

“They are doing incredible work, often putting themselves at risk, in order to provide vital supplies and keep people fed.

“It is absolutely appalling that, in carrying out their vital roles, workers are facing this abuse, when they should be receiving heartfelt thanks from the people they are serving.”

The union said some of the comments from workers included:

“I had never cried in work until the first week of the lockdown. I received constant abuse from nearly every customer during one shift when the rules were changed so that we couldn’t accept returns. I finally broke when one woman refused to leave the store and insulted me and berated me for not doing the return.”

“My job has become emotionally draining and it is really starting to affect my mental health.”

“Verbal and physical abuse from customers, it’s not nice, we are only trying to enforce social distancing but customers are using the trip to the shops as a day out and putting the staff at risk, then we return to our families in fear and panic because of the small-minded stupidity.”

“The worst abuse I have experienced has occurred whilst working on the till. Some customers have been extremely abusive when they have been asked to pay by card instead of cash.”

“Customers are getting worse and are refusing to listen to store staff as this situation continues. Whole families are shopping and others are meeting at the store and using it as a place to gather.”

with PA Wires

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