Usdaw welcomes government inquiry into shopworker violence after incidents double in 2020

Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed a new inquiry into the rise of violence and abuse towards retail workers.

On Friday the union announced it had secured the necessary 100,000 signatures required to trigger a parliamentary debate.

The petition calls for better protection for shopworkers, and was launched by Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis.

READ MORE: Superdrug to issue body cameras as it prepares for “even bigger spike” in violence this Christmas

It asks for new legislation to create a specific offence of abusing, threatening or assaulting a retail worker.

The Usdaw petition also says that the offence must carry a penalty that acts as a deterrent and makes clear that abuse of retail workers is unacceptable.

Retailers including Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Dixons Carphone, Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and WH Smith have all added their support to the petition which comes after a year of increasing violence against retail staff.

Usdaw has so far found that 85.49 per cent of shopworkers surveyed have been abused in 2020, with 56.87 per cent threatened and 16.27 per cent of shopworkers assaulted during their career.

When asked if they had experienced rising violence and abuse at work during the coronavirus, 76 per cent of respondents said violence and abuse was either ‘much worse’ or ‘worse’.

Many retailers have turned to new technologies to help prevent the crime wave and protest staff.

Central England Co-op announced in October that it was introducing a system which allows its staff to call for immediate assistance at the touch of a button.

In a new campaign designed to “deter would-be criminals and ensure our colleagues and their families are protected”, the retailer is also working to establish greater links with local police forces and places tracking devices in more items.

It comes after the grocer was forced to issue its employees with body worn cameras, monitored by a third party security company, which staff have been told to turn on whenever they feel an incident is about to take place.

Superdrug and Waitrose have also issued body cameras to staff in the past year due to rising violence.

“It has been a terrible year for our members, with incidents of abuse doubling during the pandemic. Retail workers, their friends, family and loved ones, are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be just a part of the job,” Lillis said.

“We were deeply disappointed by the Government’s initial response to the petition, offering little more than sympathy. Unfortunately, they also objected to the Alex Norris’ protection of shopworkers bill in the House of Commons. So we are now looking for MPs to get behind retail staff, who are key workers providing essential services, and help turn around the Government’s opposition.

“Usdaw will respond to this ‘call for evidence’ and encourage our members on the frontline of retail to participate in the survey. Shopworkers have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law,” Lillis added.

On September 15 the government’s initial response to the petition was to argue that violence against shopworkers did not need a specific offence:

“The Government is not persuaded that a specific offence is needed as a wide range of offences already exist which cover assaults against any worker, including shop workers,” the Ministry of Justice said at the time.

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