Assistant Editor, Safety & Health Practitioner

August 5, 2019

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Retail abuse

USDAW call on Government to do more to protect safety of retail workers

The Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw), retailers and their representative organisations urged for the Home Secretary and other Ministers to take more action towards abuse against retail workers.

Tougher sentences for those who attack shopworkers, a change to the out of court disposal systems, for instance fixed penalty notices, which according to Usdaw, fails to have an impact on reoffending, and finally to fully review the response time of police officers when an incident of violence occurs in the retail sector, are all issues that Usdaw, retailers and representatives highlighted to the Home Secretary.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary, stated that “the Government should really sit up and listen when the shopworkers’ trade union and the retail employers are talking with one voice on this very important issue.”

Retailers have slammed the current criminal offences against retail abusers, as many shopworkers say it is unfair that retail abusers receive a less harsh penalty than the abuse they give to shopworkers. “We are aware of the existing criminal offences that could apply when shopworkers are assaulted, threatened or harassed. However, our members’ experience is that the law is failing vulnerable workers”.

“Abuse is not part of the job” added Paddy, “we continue to call for stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers and the introduction of a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, courts and most importantly criminals”.

The Government issued a ‘call to evidence’ and Usdaw responded with research that gave 3,272 answers from retail workers, across England and Wales. Statistics revealed that there is a high number of retail workers that have received physical and verbal abuse.

The findings were:

  • 62% have been the victim of verbal or physical abuse.
  • 80% believe that abuse and violence have increased in recent years.
  • 25% describe threats of physical violence, with over half of these involving threats with weapons, most commonly knives, syringes or bottles.
  • 15% describe actual physical violence, varying from workers being pushed, spat upon, punched, kicked or attacked with weapons.

Usdaw’s research also showed that many workers believe that this is due to the lack of respect they receive, and the sense of entitlement people often think they have towards them, which puts their safety at risk of abuse.

Paddy expressed that “retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”

Cases from research

As part of the survey, shopworkers were able to voice their own experiences on abuse they received.

One retail worker spoke on how abuse only started to get worse in recent years, they expressed that:

“I have worked in retail for 20-years and I have first-hand experience of the issue. In the last four years I have had more abuse and threats made against me than in the rest of my experience combined.”

On a separate case, a shopworker talks about the physical abuse he encountered during working hours and out:

“I have been dragged out of the store and battered by a group of five men, punched and kicked by a gang of teenagers, followed home after late night shifts, had a knife pulled on me three times, had to wrestle needles out of drug addicts hands to prevent harm to colleagues, and that doesn’t include the verbal abuse I receive on a daily basis.”

Many shopworkers spoke about the decrease in police response-time, which they say, is down to the shortage of officers on the road:

“The police are far too stretched, and half the time do not have people to send out or it takes some time at which point it’s too late the person’s gone.”

“In the past the police were fantastic when I had my arm broken and also when someone spat in my eye, but in last 2 years the response has been pretty poor due to lack of resources and being over stretched they used to come straight out to you to take statement, now it can take 5 to 6 days before they come to see you.”

Many believe that the criminal justice system needs to be stricter with penalties and prosecutions, otherwise retail workers’ safety will be at risk even more, as it will not offenders are likely to reoffend:

“The actual sentence, when given, was very poor. There should be tougher sentences handed down, especially for repeat offenders. The message needs sending out that society isn’t going to stand for it anymore. It isn’t a soft nor a faceless crime. It affects communities.”

“My store has recently had a number of prolific shoplifters arrested and presented to the courts. However, one returned the next day and stole more goods and the other after just a few weeks!”

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