// 65+ CEOs have written to the PM calling for greater protection for shopworkers in England & Wales
// Verbal abuse and violence have been increasing for some time but a BRC survey says this accelerated amid Covid-19
// Letter calls for legislation to make assaulting shopworkers a separate offence, the same as in Scotland
More than 65 bosses from retailers and industry bodies have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to take action to tackle violence and abuse towards shopworkers in England and Wales.
The letter calls for the UK Government “to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves and improve protection for our employees by creating a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker”.
This legislation would toughen sentences for those who are violent or abusive towards shopworkers, deter future perpetrators and ensure shopworkers feel safer at work.
- Scotland passes law to protect shop workers from abuse & attacks
- Abuse of shopworkers increased during pandemic, survey finds
- Government urged to “investigate growing problem” of crime against shopworkers
The letter comes a few weeks after legislation detailing such protections was passed in Scotland.
It is also in response to a recent survey conducted by the BRC, which found that of retailers classed as essential and are allowed to be open during lockdown, 100 per cent of respondents have seen an increase in verbal abuse.
The survey also found two thirds of respondents reported an increase in the number of incidents of physical violence against staff during the current lockdown.
Meanwhile all retailers who reported a rise in verbal or violent attacks said that the enforcement of Covid restrictions was the key factor.
One leading retailer reported 990 incidents of violence or abuse in the first week after face coverings became compulsory in shops, including incidents of coughing and spitting.
The BRC’s survey also outlined some specific stories from retail shopworkers.
One retailer reported that when reminding customers to shop alone, they were confronted and shouted at by an individual, who returned to the store later that afternoon “brandishing an axe [and]… threatening the store team with it”.
A shopworker at another retailer asked a couple to put on face coverings. They left the store, only to return hours later when they began “coughing on staff, insisting they had coronavirus, which made the staff feel distressed”.
Another accounts a time where they were “threatened with a syringe… [because a shoplifter] was stealing cheese and said if I didn’t get out of the way he would stab me.”
The BRC highlighted that it has long called for new statutory offence for those who are violent or abusive against retail staff, as well as an improved police response.
Retailers are spending record amounts on crime prevention, with increased security personnel, body-worn cameras and personal attack alarms, yet incidents are on the rise – especially since the start of the pandemic.
The BRC’s Crime Survey conducted prior to the pandemic found that over 400 shopworkers were being abused or assaulted every day. Common triggers included age verification and confronting shop lifters.
“The BRC has repeatedly called on the government to take action and protect our colleagues from harm,” BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said.
“Every day over 400 retail staff are attacked, threatened, or abused in their place of work.
“Over 150,000 in 2019, and these numbers have been rising during the pandemic. Those attacked are our friends, our family, our colleagues. This cannot go on.
“The recent surge in violence should serve as a wake-up call for government.
“Retail workers are playing a vital role during the biggest public health crisis of our time – ensuring everyone has access to the items they need and keeping stores safe for customers and colleagues.
“And, at what cost? They have been coughed at, spat on, racially abused, threatened with weapons, the list goes on.
“No one should go to work fearing for their safety, and we hope the Prime Minister will play his part by introducing a new offence for abusing, threatening and assaulting a retail worker.”