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Theft is top trigger for store violence

The top trigger for violence, threats and abuse against shop workers is shop theft, according to a trade union for retail staff. In its ‘Freedom From Fear’ survey Usdaw found that during 2018 a majority, 64 per cent of UK shop workers experienced verbal abuse; four in ten, 40pc were threatened by a customer, and some with 288 were assaulted every day.

The Home Office recently said it was seeking the views of organisations and individuals who wish to contribute to their understanding of the problem of violence and abuse toward shop staff in England and Wales. This consultation closes at 11pm on June 28; submissions can be made online.

Usdaw has called on the Scottish Government to back a ‘protection of workers’ Bill. Daniel Johnson MSP (Labour, Edinburgh Southern) is seeking to provide more protections for retail staff, including those who sell age-restricted items. His member’s bill has been through an initial consultation and overwhelmingly backed by shop workers. It is also supported by Asda, Co-op and the Scottish Grocers’ Federation. The Bill is in the drafting stage.

Usdaw is running their own survey, which will feed into the Home Office ‘call for evidence’ and can be completed at: www.usdaw.org.uk/respectsurvey.

The union like retail trade bodies points to refusing to serve alcohol or cigarettes to a customer not showing ‘proof of age’ ID and even queues as other triggers for assault or verbal abuse.

Paddy Lillis, General Secretary of Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers), says: “The idea that shoplifting is a victimless crime is wrong. Theft from shops is often a trigger for violence, threats and abuse against shop workers. The rising trend in shoplifting is extremely worrying for our members, even though figures from last year suggest the trend may be levelling off. However we believe that police recorded incidents under-estimate the scale of the problem because of significant under-reporting of incidents.

“The evidence from retailers, police and our own survey of shop workers all show a disturbing increase in retail crime. This cannot be allowed to continue, action must be taken.

“We have long been concerned that theft from shops is not taken seriously and sometimes regarded as a victimless crime with only large companies affected, but the reality for shop workers is very different. Police resources are so stretched we’ve heard some chief constables reporting that their officers can no longer attend theft from shops incidents and they are asking shop workers to detain shoplifters.

“Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers, there needs to be government action to protect them. The police must have the resources from Government to respond to incidents and investigate shop thefts. We want the Government to legislate for stiffer sentences for the thugs that attack shop workers.

“We want to see retailers, police and the courts working in partnership to ensure better protection for shop workers. Retail staff are an important part of our communities; their role must be valued, respected and protected.”


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