Abuse, threats and violence: a day in the life of a shopworker

Retail trade union Usdaw has published shocking statistics from its annual survey, revealing high levels of abuse, threats and violence against shopworkers.

The research revealed that 90% of the 3,500 retail employees who responded have been subject to verbal abuse in the last 12 months. Almost two-thirds (64%) were threatened by a customer while more than one in every ten (12%) were physically assaulted.

Despite these high figures, confidence in reporting incidents remains low, as nearly two-thirds (61%) are not confident that reporting abuse, threats or violence would make a difference.

“It is shocking that 9 in 10 of our members working in retail are suffering abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence,” said Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis.

Read more: Shop worker abuse soars after gaps appear on shelves

Lillis was particularly concerned about the one-third increase in assaults, up from 9% in 2020 to 12% in 2021, describing it as “extremely worrying” that nearly two-thirds do not feel thay reporting these issues will make any difference.

“Violence and abuse is not an acceptable part of the job and it is truly horrific that shopworkers are having to face it on a daily basis,” he added.

Although the situation appears bleak, there are some early signs that Usdaw’s work with retail employers may be starting to make a difference.

The Protection of Workers Act came into force in Scotland in August 2021 and by the end of the year nearly 300 cases were under investigation by the Scottish Police.

While similar laws are not yet in place across England, Wales or Northern Ireland, government has supported an amendment to the Policing Bill that would make violence against workers a statutory aggravating factor when sentencing.

Lillis continued: “However, faced with such appallingly high levels of violence and abuse, and with shopworkers’ almost complete lack of confidence in the ability of the system to give them the protection they need, much more needs to be done.

“The government must provide the co-ordination needed to ensure that retail employers, police and the courts work together to make stores safe places for our members to work and for customers to shop.”

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