One in eight shopworkers have been assaulted by customers, with one threatened with a knife after he finished his shift, according to new research.
A survey of 3,500 retail staff by the shopworkers’ union Usdaw found that nine in 10 had suffered verbal abuse in the past year and two in three were threatened by a customer.
Three in five respondents said they were not confident that reporting abuse or violence would make any difference.
Comments from the survey included:
– “Customer in his 60s waited for me to finish my shift then tried to stab me at the bus stop because he had been made to wait in a queue outside the shop.”
– “I work as an internet shopping picker. Customers will be rude and vent their frustration on you, saying you’re in their way, you are picking the food they need, you shouldn’t be picking all the food off the shelves. They swear at you and say they are paying your wages. Not all customers are like this but when you are picking they let you know they don’t appreciate you being there.”
– “Customer walked me into a corner and threatened my life for not stopping a maskless customer entering the store.”
– “My employer gives apologies and £50 gift cards to customers who complain, even if these complaints have been found to be unsubstantiated. Would be great if they would ask for our side of the story and evidence before rewarding abusive customers and apologising to them.”
– “After being spat at, then four weeks later physically assaulted, I walked out and went on sick for eight weeks, had to go onto medication for anxiety and had a breakdown.”
Around 12% of those surveyed said they had been assaulted in the past 12 months, up from 9% the previous year.
Paddy Lillis, general secretary of Usdaw, said the findings were “shocking”, adding: “Violence and abuse is not an acceptable part of the job and it is truly horrific that shopworkers are having to face it on a daily basis. Although the situation is bleak, there are some early signs that our work with retail employers may be starting to make a difference.
“The Protection of Workers Act came into force in Scotland in August 2021. By the end of the year nearly 300 cases were under investigation by the Scottish Police. While we still do not have similar laws for England, Wales or Northern Ireland, the Westminster Government has given its support to an amendment to their Policing Bill that would make violence against workers a statutory aggravating factor when sentencing.
“However, faced with such appallingly high levels of violence and abuse, and with shopworkers’ almost complete lack of confidence in the ability of the system to give them the protection they need, much more needs to be done.
“The Government must provide the co-ordination needed to ensure that retail employers, police and the courts work together to make stores safe places for our members to work and for customers to shop.”