Retail workers face unprecedented levels of abuse

Recent figures from a yearly crime survey have shown a staggering 50% rise in retail workers facing violent and abusive incidents – with 1,300 such incidents now occurring daily in Britain.

This concerning news arrives less than six months after the bosses of Tesco, Greggs, Boots and other chain stores wrote to the then-Home Secretary Suella Braverman requesting that abuse towards shop workers be made a specific criminal offence. 

A petition demanding the same things has garnered nearly 50,000 signatures, although the government has said they “do not think more legislative change is required” in this area.

Daisy, a 20-year-old Kingston resident who works at the tills in a chain supermarket, says abuse has become an all too familiar reality of her job, as demonstrated in an incident she experienced just last week.

“I was closing up the store five minutes after closing time – locking the doors and helping the customers who were finishing their shop at the self service tills – when a man began banging on the door to be let in.

“When I politely told him that we could not let him in began repeatedly shouting the c-word at me and banging the glass even more aggressively.

“When I was letting out the final customer, he tried to barge through the door and had to be held back by two members of staff.”

More than one in four retail workers under the age of 24, are raising concerns about how abuse may deter young adults like Daisy to seek further employment as shop workers.  

Last December, Putney MP Fleur Anderson brought a session about abuse against retail workers to the Commons.

Among the shocking revelations highlighted in that session were that two-thirds of shop workers surveyed by the union USDAW said they had suffered abuse from customers, while 5% said they had been physically assaulted.

Many have linked the rise in abuse against shop workers to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, with confrontations over shoplifting constituting as one possible source of conflict between shoppers and staff.

Cases of shoplifting have sky-rocketed at the same time attacks against shop workers have risen.

Shoplifting incidents more than doubled to 16.7 million in 2023, costing retailers a combined £1.8 billion.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, has said that “criminals are being given a free pass to steal goods and to abuse and assault retail colleagues”. 

However, the epidemic of abuse directed at retail workers is multi-faceted – shop workers have described the enforcement of ID-checks for alcohol and tobacco products has caused abuse, and clashes over enforcing COVID-19 safety rules have previously been cited as causing aggressive conflicts. 

Some retail workers also find themselves suffering a double burden – not just facing abuse from customers but also suffering mistreatment from their bosses. 

Zainab, a Surbiton-based retail worker, said she was forced to work longer hours than she was contracted under the threat of termination if she failed to do so, and was refused basic rights such as toilet breaks.

When asked about the aforementioned government comments that further legislation was unnecessary, Zainab disagreed.

“Something needs to be done – and done quickly – to protect those of us working in retail.”

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