USDAW campaign against abuse of shop workers

West Midlands shopworkers speak out about increased abuse during the pandemic

Retail trade union Usdaw has renewed a call for legislation to protect retail staff after they released new statistics showing that 79% of shopworkers say abuse was worse last year.

The final results of Usdaw’s 2020 survey of 2,729 shopworkers across the UK found that:

  • 88% experienced verbal abuse,
  • 60% were threatened by a customer,
  • 9% were assaulted.

The full report can be downloaded from:

West Midlands voices from the frontline: These are some of the comments West Midlands shopworkers shared when responding to Usdaw’s survey:

Birmingham: “Shoplifter becoming aggressive when asked to leave.” – “On customer services, threatened, verbal and racial abuse.” – “Kicked by a customer because I was ‘in the way’.”

Coventry & Warwickshire: “They have thrown food at me when trying to limit items.” – “Incidents of verbal abuse occur more in isolated places such as the petrol station.” – “Customers are rude and abusive about social distancing.”

Hereford & Worcester: “Coughed at, sworn at.” – “I was racially abused by a customer. “ – “I’ve also experienced sexual harassment from a few customers.” – “Threats of violence when I finish work saying they’ll slash my face.”

Shropshire: “Shouted and screamed and put fist up to my face.” – “We had a shoplifter threaten to give us the Covid-19 by spitting on our faces. He was also physical with another colleague.”

Staffordshire: “We get shoplifters almost daily and when they want their goods we get threatened with needles.” – “Abuse mainly from age related sales when they haven’t got ID.” – “Verbal abuse from impatient customers.”

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “It is heart-breaking to hear these testimonies from West Midlands shopworkers who deserve far more respect than they

receive. Our latest survey results clearly show the scale of the appalling violence, threats and abuse faced by shopworkers and demonstrate the need for a ‘protection of shopworkers’ law.

It has been a terrible year for our members, with almost 90% of shopworkers suffering abuse, two-thirds threatened and one in ten assaulted.

“We are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be part of the job. At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a disgrace that staff working to keep food on the shelves and the shop safe for customers are being abused.

Action to protect shop workers is needed. “The UK Government has persistently opposed new legislation, offering little more than sympathy and objecting to the Alex Norris protection of shopworkers bill in the House of Commons. We are now looking for MPs to support key workers across the retail sector and help turn around the UK Government’s opposition.”

Campaign update: Late last year, the influential House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee launched an inquiry into the issue the day after Usdaw secured over 100,000 signatures on a ‘protect shopworkers’ petition. In January, the Scottish Parliament unanimously voted for a ground-breaking new law to protect shopworkers.

In February, 66 senior retail leaders wrote to the Prime Minister urging the Government to create a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening, or abusing a retail worker.

Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry

Usdaw submission:

Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences) Bill promoted by Alex Norris MP (Labour/Co-op, Nottingham North) was timetabled for its second reading in the House of Commons, but the Government objected and it is now delayed.

Usdaw’s recent success in getting over 100,000 signatures on our parliamentary petition has further highlighted that urgent action is needed. We are therefore pleased that the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee has just launched an inquiry into violence and abuse towards retail workers.

Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences) Bill promoted by Alex Norris MP (Labour/Co-op, Nottingham North) was timetabled for its second reading in the House of Commons, but the Government objected to it progressing and is now delayed until Friday 8 January.

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK’s fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

Co-op respect for shopworkers survey:
23 retailers and industry bodies urge PM to act on violence and abuse against shopworkers: ACS, Aldi, Asda, BIRA, Boots, BRC, Central England Co-op, Co-op, Dixons Carphone, Homebase, Lidl GB, Marks and Spencer, Mid Counties Co-operative, McColl’s, Morrisons, Nationwide, NISA, NFRN, Sainsbury’s, Southern Co-op, Street Works UK, Tesco and WH Smith

Usdaw’s surveys of shopworkers found that on average UK shopworkers were verbally abused, threatened or assaulted every fortnight in 2019, but that average doubled to every week during the Coronavirus emergency.

The survey of 2,232 shopworkers was conducted online and asked the question: ‘What were the main triggers for abuse during the Coronavirus emergency?’ They were able to identify more than one issue and responded:

Enforcing social distancing 68% Queueing to get in store 50% Lack of stock 46% Face Coverings 42% Limiting sales 41% Shoplifting 25% Age restricted sales 17%


Protect Retail Workers from Abuse, Threats and Violence: 

Enact legislation to protect retail workers. This legislation must create a specific offence of abusing, threatening or assaulting a retail worker. The offence must carry a penalty that acts as a deterrent and makes clear that abuse of retail workers is unacceptable. Throughout the Coronavirus outbreak, retail workers have been spat at, threatened with infection of Coronavirus and physically assaulted. Since the start of the outbreak, the average retail worker has been assaulted, threatened or abused every 6.5 days, more than double the rate of incidents compared to 2019. Key workers across retail have been undervalued for too long. We need to recognise the valuable contribution of these workers and ensure they are safe whilst undertaking essential work.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply