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Coronavirus and retail

Retail staff are essential, particularly during the coronavirus crisis, and they deserve the protection of the law, says a trade union covering the retail sector. Usdaw has welcomed the proposal of a law to protect shop workers, as promoted on Monday in the House of Commons by Labour MP Alex Norris.

The union urges the public to treat retail workers with courtesy during the coronavirus outbreak, pointing out that it can be frustrating when shops are busy, or you can’t get the items you want, but it is never acceptable to take this out on shop workers, or delivery drivers. Supermarkets in particular are reporting extraordinary demand and takings, and ‘unbelievable’ complaints from shoppers, and ‘mayhem’; such as early risers waiting for the store doors to open in the morning, and competing for panic-buying of such staples as bread, fresh vegetables, tinned soup, long-life milk, noodles (pictured; or rather, not pictured) and tea.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary has called for ‘proper penalties’ for those who assault workers; and for a ‘simple stand-alone law that is widely recognised and understood’, by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and – most importantly – criminals. He says: “Usdaw and the retail employers have been calling, for some time, on the Government to support legislation to protect shop workers from rising levels of violence, abuse and assaults. We have always made the case that retail staff are at the heart of our communities, but with the current Coronavirus crisis we would argue that they are essential workers.

“Usdaw members right across the retail supply chain and in stores are working hard to keep shelves filled and serve customers. We understand this is a stressful time and remind customers that shop workers deserve respect and that no level of abuse is ever acceptable. It should never be a part of the job.”

Separately this month the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the ACS (Association of Convenience Stores) reported crime surveys of members that – as in recent years – described organised crime against retail, and shop thieves prepared to threaten and even use verbal and physical violence, especially if confronted during a theft, or if challenged if under-age and asking for cigarettes or alcohol; or refused sale of alcohol if already drunk. More on each in the April 2020 print issue of Professional Security magazine.

The ACS has likewise welcomed Norris’ bill, presented as a Ten Minute Rule motion in the House of Commons. ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Incidents of violence and abuse against people working in local shops are far too common.”

The Bill motion passed unopposed and will receive its second reading on April 24. For more visit the UK Parliament website. Nottingham MP Alex Norris spoke of an ‘exponential rise in violence’, yet ‘an ever-decreasing response from our police forces’. He asked that ‘attacking a retail worker should be classified as an aggravated assault’. He added that ‘whether it is businesses or unions, colleagues or management, big stores or local corner shops, everyone is united in their call for action’.

Resources for retailers on COVID-19 (Coronavirus), on the ACS website. Visit also http://www.brc.org.uk/coronavirus.


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