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Retail staff demand bosses meet ‘legal and moral’ obligations to protect workers from sexual harassment

BOSSES must meet their “legal and moral” responsibilities to protect vulnerable lone workers from sexual harassment and violent assaults, retail staff demanded today.

Delegates gathered in Blackpool at the annual conference of retail union Usdaw overwhelmingly endorsed a series of motions urging action to protect petrol station staff, home delivery drivers, supermarket trolley collectors and others who work alone, often late at night.

The TUC warned earlier this month that Tory ministers could backtrack on plans to strengthen workplace sexual harassment laws by dropping their proposed worker protection Bill.

Delegate Marcus Raymond spoke scathingly of this possibility but reminded the more than 1,000 Usdaw members and visitors in the Winter Gardens’ Empress Ballroom that it was pressure from the trade union movement which had forced Downing Street to commit to new legislation in the first place.

He said: “Morally and legally, employers should be required to take all reasonable steps to stop sexual harassment.

“Society can and must do better,” the Salford Quays member insisted, to rapturous applause.

The retail sector, Britain’s biggest employer, is facing increasing pressure to cut staffing levels amid rising costs, making lone working more common, Tesco employee Phil Crooks warned.

“We need to act now to protect our workers from harm,” he said.

“We must resist the push to cut our members’ jobs and we must push to end the practice of lone working.”

Petrol station employee Reyes Sebastian Santacruz backed the plea, saying that it would take about five minutes for help to arrive if she called for it during a night shift. 

West Sussex member Rosie Walters demanded that bosses provide more training on coping with harassment or abuse.

She told the conference about Tesco worker John William Carroll, who died in July 2021 after suffering a violent assault when working outside a store in Andover, Hampshire.

She said: “Lone workers are more vulnerable than those working inside stores with other colleagues and more could be done by individual companies to support them.”

South Yorkshire delegate Scott Cocker said that any late-night hospitality employers must be required to provide staff with “safe and free transport home if there is no public transport as a requirement for a licence to sell or serve alcohol.”

The Unite union’s Get Me Home Safely campaign has already received backing from local councils across Britain, including those of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Sheffield, Newcastle, Birmingham, Brighton and Plymouth.

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