// Central England Co-op reveals rise in violent offences and people threatening to cough and spit on colleagues
// It branded these incidents as “totally unacceptable” and re-iterated its call for compassion and respect
// There has been a jump in incidents of verbal abuse – from 11 per week to 24
Central England Co-op has branded a rise in violent offences and people threatening to cough and spit in the faces of staff working through the coronavirus pandemic as “totally unacceptable”.
The grocery chain has been forced to reiterate a plea for its teams to be treated with “care, compassion and respect”.
It said it recorded a rising trend of verbal abuse and threats from customers since the UK entered lockdown and implemented social distancing measures in essential retail stores that have been able to remain open.
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According to figures collected by Central England Co-op for the past four weeks, there has been a jump in incidents of verbal abuse – from 11 per week to 24.
In some cases, the grocer said this was more than four times higher than the same period during 2019.
Incidents took place in the following areas: West Midlands, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.
“Throughout these uncertain times our colleagues have been and continue to do everything they can to ensure our community stores have enough food and essential items for everyone,” Central England Co-op chief executive Debbie Robinson said.
“On the whole, our members and customers have been supportive and showed our frontline heroes care, compassion and respect.
“However, as the figures released today show, we have a minority who ignore these pleas and treat our hardworking teams in a totally unacceptable manner.
“Today we again ask for people to be kind and respectful to those working in our stores and to understand the changes we have had to put in place are to keep our colleagues and our communities safe and healthy.
“For anyone who does not support us, we will continue to work closely with local police forces to showcase that we have a zero tolerance approach to any violent or threatening behaviour towards our colleagues.
“I am a strong campaigner for shop workers to be treated as public servants in the eyes of the law, in cases where they suffer violence or risk from the public.
“I would hope their status in society will now be permanently elevated and I am redoubling my efforts in lobbying for a change in sentencing law to ensure those who choose to attack our colleagues are held accountable for their actions on the same level as other frontline workers.”
Central England Co-op has already rolled out a range of measures across its stores aimed at keeping customers and colleagues safe including social distancing, gloves and hand sanitiser, over 1000 checkout perspex screens, 7000 face visors for staff and over 150 security guards to help with queues.
The retailer also recruited over 1000 extra colleagues to help in stores, including support from across its other businesses in travel, floral and head office, and launched a 10 per cent discount and priority access for NHS staff and rewarding staff for their hard work.
The retailer added that it was also continuing a range of measures to help those whose lives have been affected by the coronavirus.