Shopworkers’ trade union leader John Hannett has called for action to prevent violence threats and abuse against shopworkers as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) reveals a 40% increase in incidents of violence and abuse against retail staff. Data collected by the BRC shows that the human cost of retail crime is growing, with a 40% increase in offences involving abuse or violence against shopworkers; rising from 41 to 51 per 1,000 shopworkers during 2016.

Results from Usdaw’s annual survey of shopworkers show that half of shopworkers were verbally abused in the last year and 29% were threatened with violence. 8% have been assaulted, but worryingly a third of them did not report to their employer a violent attack by a customer.

John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary says: “All too often shopworkers encounter violence, threats and abuse for simply doing their job. So this latest survey from the British Retail Consortium is very worrying.

“Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers and there is still a lot to do to help protect them. We launched our Freedom From Fear Campaign in the face of growing concerns amongst retail workers about violence, threats and abuse. The campaign works with retailers to promote respect and make workplaces safer for staff and customers alike.

“All too often criminals who assault staff are not even sent to court, and those who are can receive derisory sentences. In other cases, where the offender often isn’t charged at all victims are left feeling that no one cares that they were assaulted.

“Retail crime remains too high and there needs to be action to protect shopworkers. It is time for the Government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected.”

Survey responses: As part of Usdaw’s survey of violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers, respondents have the opportunity to feedback their experiences, here are some examples:

Theft is often a trigger for violence. A member in Northwich reported that, “I was attacked at work when I caught a customer stealing – they tried to strangle me.” A shopworker from the Midlands said, “I was punched by a customer when trying to stop a robbery.” A shopworker from Bridlington who is verbally abused almost weekly and the victim of physical abuse at least once a month said, “I often have to deal with all shoplifters. I’ve been smacked, head butted, spat at and kicked.”

Spitting at members whilst they are trying to do their job has been highlighted including a shopworker from Wellingborough who said, “I have been physically assaulted and pushed to ground. Verbally threatened and spat at.” A member from Birmingham who simply said, “spat at by a customer.” In Eccles an Usdaw member reported, “a woman returned an item which was clearly used, I refused the refund, she turned violent and spat at me.”

Customers often throw goods at shopworkers. A member in Hornchurch who has been threatened several times in the last 12 months said, “I was spat at and had a basket chucked at me.” Another member working in Cheadle says, “Staff are shouted at for issues out of our control, money and clothes are often thrown at us.” An Usdaw member from Leeds simply said, “Customer threw a toaster at me.” Whilst another Leeds shopworker said, “A customer threw a hot chicken at me.”