// Co-op urges UK Government to introduce new legislation to protect staff amid “store crime epidemic”
// Co-op says crime increased by more than 140% in its stores so far this year
Shop workers face a “store crime epidemic” unless the UK Government urgently introduces new legislation to protect staff, ministers are being warned.
The Co-op revealed that crime has increased by more than 140 per cent in its stores so far this year, despite praise for the critical role played by retail workers during the coronavirus crisis.
The grocery giant said the number of violent incidents have hit record levels, with 1350 attacks reported, including shop workers being spat at and threatened with being “given coronavirus”.
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The retailer said concerns for the physical and mental well-being of store staff has grown, adding that the government had failed to act, exactly one year after its call for evidence on violence against shop staff closed.
The Co-op said recent examples of coronavirus-related attacks up and down the country included:
– Adeel Zafar, Co-op store manager in Halesowen: “A customer went ballistic at me when I asked him to respect social distancing measures – he started shouting verbal abuse, said he hoped I caught coronavirus and that he would ‘sort me out’. It was a terrifying experience for me and the team to witness at an already difficult time.”
– Claire Saunders, Co-op store manager in Romford: “I have faced physical and verbal abuse and have been physically assaulted. Recently a shoplifter threatened to spit in my face and give me coronavirus. This is not part of our job and it is just not acceptable.”
The Co-op is supporting Alex Norris MP’s Assault on Shop Workers Bill which has seen its second reading in Parliament postponed.
Hundreds of Co-op employees from around the UK have filmed short videos detailing their harrowing experiences.
“Last year, more than 600 of my colleagues bravely took the time to share their own experiences of abuse, violence and intimidation with the Home Office as part of their call for evidence,” Co-op Food chief executive Jo Whitfield said.
“Yet here we are, a year on since the consultation closed and there has still been no response.
“My colleagues need to have their contributions acknowledged in order to know that the government takes retail crime seriously.
“This issue is not going away, it’s just getting worse thanks to the onset of coronavirus.
“The role played by shop workers in serving their communities, particularly during the last 12 weeks, is nothing short of amazing and they have rightly been deemed as key workers who are playing an essential role in keeping the nation fed.
“Yet despite this recognition, they are continually disrespected and have to contend with unprecedented levels of violence and abuse on a daily basis.”
Paddy Lillis, general secretary of the shopworkers union Usdaw, said: “At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a disgrace that people working to keep food on the shelves for their local communities are being abused and assaulted. Urgent action is required.
“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.”
with PA Wires