On the day that over 65 leading retailers and industry bodies have written to the Prime Minister calling on him to take urgent action to tackle violence and abuse towards retail workers, one Bedford shopkeeper says she faces abuse almost every day.
The letter – signed by ALDI, John Lewis, Greggs, Timpson, McDonalds and Sainsburys among others – calls for the Government “to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves and improve protection for our employees by creating a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker.”
This legislation would toughen sentences for those who are violent or abusive towards shopworkers, deter future perpetrators and ensure shop workers feel safer at work.
A shopkeeper in Bedford – who has asked to remain nameless – said that the requirement to wear a mask in shops has seen a rise in abuse towards retailers.
“Yes we have it almost everyday,” she told the Bedford Independent.
“You not only suffer the abuse, but as a retailer I wear a mask behind the screens just to remind people visually.
“I stopped once shopper outside the shop as they didn’t have a mask and when I wore mine they said, you know that mask is not protecting you the air particles are still in the air and that mask is not protecting you.
“I told them it was now a requirement, no mask no entry, and still you get abused even before entry to the shop.”
She says that abuse to retailers has increased tremendously and believes the requirement to enforce mask-wearing has made it worse.
“I chose to work in this environment and I get a lot of satisfaction from it. But abuse, violence, theft are not part of the job.
“It’s about time stricter penalties were imposed to protect retailers who work so hard to keep their community and people going all day long.
“It’s not easy and protection has not been on our side.”
The letter to the PM comes in response to a recent survey conducted by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which found that:
- Of “essential” retailers, who are currently allowed to be open, 100% of respondents have seen an increase in verbal abuse
- Two thirds of respondents reported an increase in the number of incidents of physical violence against staff during the current lockdown
- All retailers who reported a rise in verbal or violent attacks said that the enforcement of Covid restrictions was the key factor
- One leading retailer reported 990 incidents of violence or abuse in the first week after face coverings became compulsory in shops in including incidents of coughing and spitting
- Individual stories are shocking and sadly all too common:
One retailer reported that when reminding customers to shop alone, they were confronted and shouted at by an individual, who returned to the store later that afternoon “brandishing an axe [and] … threatening the store team with it”.
A shopworker at another retailer asked a couple to put on face coverings. They left the store, only to return hours later when they began “coughing on staff, insisting they had coronavirus, which made the staff feel distressed.”
Another accounts a time where they were “threatened with a syringe… [because a shoplifter] was stealing cheese and said if I didn’t get out of the way he would stab me.”
As reported previously by the Bedford Independent, the BRC has long called for a new statutory offence for those who are violent or abusive against retail staff, as well as an improved police response.
No one should go to work fearing for their safety
Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium said: “The BRC has repeatedly called on the Government to take action and protect our colleagues from harm.
“Every day over 400 retail staff are attacked, threatened, or abused in their place of work. Over 150,000 in 2019, and these numbers have been rising during the pandemic. Those attacked are our friends, our family, our colleagues. This cannot go on.
“The recent surge in violence should serve as a wake-up call for Government.
“Retail workers are playing a vital role during the biggest public health crisis of our time – ensuring everyone has access to the items they need and keeping stores safe for customers and colleagues. And, at what cost?
“They have been coughed at, spat on, racially abused, threatened with weapons, the list goes on.
“No one should go to work fearing for their safety, and we hope the Prime Minister will play his part by introducing a new offence for abusing, threatening and assaulting a retail worker.”