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Union condemns ‘appalling levels’ of violence and abuse against retail workers

RETAIL union Usdaw condemned “appalling levels” of violence and abuse against retail workers today after a shocking new survey found that incidents have nearly doubled on pre-coronavirus levels.

Daily reports of racial and sexual abuse and physical assault — including threats with weapons — skyrocketed from a 2019-20 high of more than 450 to over 850 in 2021-22, according to research conducted by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The trade association warned that, alongside the “huge emotional and physical impact on people, retail crime bears a huge financial cost,” totalling a whopping £1.76 billion in the latest figures.

Some £953 million was lost to customer theft, with eight million incidents recorded over the year, while retailers forked out £715m on crime prevention, it explained. 

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “The pandemic has normalised appalling levels of violent and abusive behaviour against retail workers.

“While a confrontation may be over in minutes, for many victims, their families and colleagues, the physical and emotional impact can last a lifetime.

“Surely everyone deserves the right to go to work without fear.”

Usdaw’s campaign for legislators across Britain to act led to Scotland’s groundbreaking Protection of Workers Bill being passed in February 2021, but Tory ministers have so far resisted calls for similar standalone legislation at Westminster.

The union, alongside the BRC and others, successfully secured an amendment to the widely criticised Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2021 which made offences against those providing a public service an aggravating factor across England and Wales.

But use of the measure, which aimed to encourage judges to hand down harsher sentences to those abusing shop staff, is not being tracked by the Home Office, making it impossible to gauge the move’s impact, Usdaw stressed.

It urged police and crime commissioners to advocate for retail crime to have a higher priority with more resources attached to investigations.

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis slammed the “deeply disturbing” research, stressing: “Violence and abuse is not an acceptable part of the job and too many shopworkers are suffering.

“There must be adequate police resources and retail crime must be taken seriously. We continue to work with retail employers and the police to help make stores safer and promote respect for shopworkers.”


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