Government rejects Usdaw call for law to protect retail staff from abuse

Andrew Kersley
© Just Another Photographer/

Usdaw has vowed to keep fighting to change the law after the government rejected a call from the union to introduce new legislation to protect retail workers from abuse.

A petition, supported by Co-op Food, the British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores, aims to create a “specific offence of abusing, threatening or assaulting a retail worker” with a set penalty for those who break it.

Launched by the union for retail workers in August, the petition had reached over 58,000 signatures by September, putting it well above the 10,000 needed to force the government to offer an official response.

But Downing Street rejected the demand, saying: “The government is not persuaded that a specific offence is needed as a wide range of offences already exist which cover assaults against any worker, including shopworkers.”

Commenting on the latest response from the Tory administration, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “We are deeply disappointed by the government’s response to the petition.

“This is a hugely important issue for our members and their local communities, with incidents of abuse doubling during the Covid-19 crisis. Shopworkers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be just a part of the job.”

A survey earlier this year found that incidents of abuse doubled during the pandemic and suggested that the UK’s 3,000,000 retail staff could face a total of 3,538 assaults per day.

62% of the 4,928 respondents to the union survey said they had faced verbal abuse since the pandemic began, whilst 29% reported being threatened and 4% reported being assaulted.

Lillis added: “At a time when the government is rightly increasing sentences for those who assault emergency service workers, and we congratulate them for that, they don’t appear to understand the role retail workers have in helping to keep our communities safe, preventing crime and anti-social behaviour.

“Shopworkers are on the frontline of policing age-restricted sales, a major flashpoint for violence, threats and abuse. Imagine the chaos and criminality that would be inflicted on communities if the sale of alcohol, knives, glue, fireworks and other dangerous items were not policed by retail staff.

“Yet the government will not give shopworkers extra protection when carrying out those duties. In fact, it is the shopworker who is most likely to be prosecuted or disciplined if they make a mistake.”

The general secretary concluded: “Retail staff play a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”

The shopworker’s trade union has now committed to campaign to get the petition to 100,000 signatures, at which point parliament will need to consider the issue for debate.

Below is the full text of the petition.

Enact legislation to protect retail workers. This legislation must create a specific offence of abusing, threatening or assaulting a retail worker. The offence must carry a penalty that acts as a deterrent and makes clear that abuse of retail workers is unacceptable.

Throughout the coronavirus outbreak, retail workers have been spat at, threatened with infection of Coronavirus and physically assaulted. Since the start of the outbreak, the average retail worker has been assaulted, threatened or abused every 6.5 days, more than double the rate of incidents compared to 2019.

Key workers across retail have been undervalued for too long. We need to recognise the valuable contribution of these workers and ensure they are safe whilst undertaking essential work.

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