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SHOPWORKERS are suffering alarming levels of abuse and assaults, mainly associated with increasing rates of shoplifting, their union has said.
The warning comes during Respect for Shopworkers’ Week, an annual initiative by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw), which represents about 350,000 staff.
The union said a national survey revealed that 65 per cent of shop staff have been verbally abused in the last year, 42 per cent were threatened and 5 per cent were physically assaulted.
The union said 60 per cent of incidents were associated with shoplifting and highlighted shocking cases in its report.
One worker said: “A regular shoplifter threatened me and another staff member, saying not ‘to try anything’ because he had a knife.”
Another said: “A shoplifter went to hit me and another said they were going to cut my throat.”
A shoplifter punched the window next to a worker and said it would be their face next time in one incident, while a separate case involved an armed robbery with a machete.
Usdaw said that despite the problems, the government had blocked attempts to make assaults on shopworkers a specific offence.
General secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Our survey demonstrates that shoplifting is not a victimless crime: theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers.
“It is shocking that two-thirds of our members working in retail are suffering abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence.
“Regrettably, the government is not delivering the change we need on retail crime.”
British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Retailer workers are suffering while government dithers.
“We need a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening, or abusing a retail worker.
“This would act as a deterrent and provide a clear message that government will not tolerate this behaviour.
“It would also require police forces to record all incidents of retail crime, allowing for better allocation of resources to the issue.”
Ms Dickinson called on Parliament to “send a clear signal that violence and abuse against retail workers will not be tolerated any longer.”
Labour’s shadow policing minister Alex said that the party would create a new specific offence of assault against retail workers.
Retail groups such as the Co-op have recently urged police forces to do more to tackle violence in shops.
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