Throughout the pandemic, Usdaw members and their colleagues working across the retail sector were at the forefront of supporting the nation, keeping the country and their local communities supplied with essential items like food, medicine, and PPE.

During this time, retail workers have experienced shocking and upsetting instances of violence, threats and abuse, with one in six of our members reporting they were verbally abused on a daily basis.

Our Coronavirus survey in March and April 2020 showed that the main flashpoints for abuse were pandemic related, including enforcement of social distancing rules. However, the pandemic is by no means the sole cause of the violence and abuse that retail workers experience. Our long running Freedom From Fear Campaign’s annual survey has shown yearly increases in threats, violence and abuse towards our members since 2007.

Our most recent survey showed that 9 out of 10 workers had been verbally abused in the last 12 months, 60% reported threats of verbal violence and 9% said they had been physically attacked. The two main triggers for this violence and abuse were dealing with shoplifters and sales of age-restricted products, both of which have also been prevalent flashpoints during the pandemic.

It is completely unacceptable that our members experience this as part of their work. That’s why Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear campaign and the drive to put in place stronger protections for retail workers and build safer communities is so important and why the support of the Co-op Party, employers and sector bodies means so much.

As part of our Freedom From Fear Campaign, and in response to the increase in violence and abuse during the pandemic, Usdaw launched a Parliamentary Petition which, with an overwhelming response, secured a debate on 07 June. There was cross party support, but the Government again declined to offer support, or address the main issues raised.

This is not good enough, Usdaw members and their colleagues right across the retail sector need action now, and we know, that with the political will, it is achievable.

Earlier this year, Daniel Johnson MSP’s Protection of Workers (Retail and Age Restricted Goods and Services) bill was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament, and will make it a separate and specific offence to abuse or threaten a retail worker. This is welcome news, and shows how Westminster could tackle the issue of violence and abuse against retail workers.

The good news is that there an opportunity for amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill from Sarah Jones MP that could achieve a similar outcome for the benefit of our members and all retail workers in the rest of the UK. They ask for similar measures as now exist in Scottish law, and will offer retail workers the protection they deserve for carrying out their jobs.

We’re calling on the Government to accept the amendments and show once and for all that abuse is not, and never should be, part of the job.