Coronavirus outbreak sees shop workers regularly abused, threatened or assaulted

23 April 2020, 08:00

File photo: Almost two out of three of those questioned said they had suffered verbal abuse
Coronavirus outbreak: Almost two out of three of those questioned said they had suffered verbal abuse. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Shop workers have been regularly verbally abused, threatened or assaulted during the coronavirus outbreak, with one in six having been abused on every shift, according to new research.

Almost two out of three of those questioned said they had suffered verbal abuse and around a third had been threatened by a customer.

A survey of 5,000 workers by the Usdaw union suggested that incidents have doubled in the past month during the coronavirus crisis, up from once a fortnight last year.

The union said 4 per cent had been assaulted, which, it estimated, amounts to more than 3,500 every day when averaged across all retail workers.

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Usdaw called for urgent action to tackle the growing problem.

General secretary Paddy Lillis said: "We are shocked that violence, threats and abuse have doubled during this national emergency.

"At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a national disgrace that people working to keep food on the shelves for their local communities are being abused and assaulted.

"Urgent action is required. Our message is clear: abuse is not part of the job.

"Life on the front line of retail is normally pretty tough for many shop workers and has become much worse during the coronavirus emergency.

"Shop workers are on the front line of feeding the country, providing an essential service in very difficult circumstances, working long hours in busy stores, facing abuse from customers and of course concerned they may contract Covid-19.

"The safety of our members is absolutely paramount, but they tell us that some of the shopping public are resisting social distancing measures in stores and can become abusive when asked to queue and maintain a two-metre gap.

"We want the Government to legislate for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers, a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and, most importantly, criminals.”

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The union said some of the comments from workers included:

- "I had never cried in work until the first week of the lockdown. I received constant abuse from nearly every customer during one shift when the rules were changed so that we couldn't accept returns. I finally broke when one woman refused to leave the store and insulted me and berated me for not doing the return."

- "My job has become emotionally draining and it is really starting to affect my mental health."

- "Verbal and physical abuse from customers, it's not nice, we are only trying to enforce social distancing but customers are using the trip to the shops as a day out and putting the staff at risk, then we return to our families in fear and panic because of the small-minded stupidity."

- "The worst abuse I have experienced has occurred whilst working on the till. Some customers have been extremely abusive when they have been asked to pay by card instead of cash."

- "Customers are getting worse and are refusing to listen to store staff as this situation continues. Whole families are shopping and others are meeting at the store and using it as a place to gather."

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: "Shop workers are at the very front line of the coronavirus emergency. They are doing incredible work, often putting themselves at risk, in order to provide vital supplies and keep people fed.

"It is absolutely appalling that, in carrying out their vital roles, workers are facing this abuse, when they should be receiving heartfelt thanks from the people they are serving."

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