A petition has been launched to make abusing, threatening or assaulting retail workers a specific offence.
More than 19,900 people from across the country have signed the petition on Parliament’s website – which comes after a report in increased abuse and violence towards shop workers during the coronavirus lockdown.
It states: “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.”
Should abusing, threatening or assaulting retail workers be a specific offence?
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As of 7.30pm today – Thursday August 20 – the petition has been signed by 23 people in the Stoke-on-Trent North parliamentary constituency as well as 31 in Stoke-on-Trent Central and 63 in Stoke-on-Trent South.
In surrounding areas of Staffordshire it has been signed by 31 people in Newcastle-under-Lyme, 19 in the Staffordshire Moorlands, 18 in Stone and 44 in Stafford.
Across the border in Cheshire it has been signed by 46 people in the Crewe and Nantwich constituency and another 13 in Congleton.
The petition has been launched by Paddy Lillis, the General Secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW).
Launching the petition he said: “We are appalled that violence, threats and abuse have doubled during this national emergency. At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a national disgrace that people working to keep food on the shelves for their local communities are being abused and assaulted.
“Further action is required and that is why we have launched this petition today. Our message is clear, abuse is not part of the job. Life on the frontline of retail is normally pretty tough for many shopworkers and has become much worse during the coronavirus emergency. Shopworkers are on the frontline of feeding the country, providing an essential service in very difficult circumstances, working long hours in busy stores, facing abuse from customers and of course concerned they may become infected with Covid-19.
“The safety of our members is absolutely paramount, but they tell us that some of the shopping public are resisting safety measures in stores and can become abusive when asked to queue, maintain social distancing or reminded to wear a face mask. Our message to the public is there is no excuse for abusing shopworkers, please treat our members with the respect they deserve.”
A coronavirus survey carried out by USDAW, which involved 4,928 shopworkers from across the country, shows that between March 14 and April 17 62.28 per cent of respondents were verbally abused, 29.07 per cent were threatened and 4.01 per cent assaulted.
The union said that when the data was extrapolated over the around 3,000,000 retail workers in the country it suggested there were more than 3,538 assaults a day.
Mr Lillis added: “In light of the unacceptable increase in abuse of shopworkers, there needs to be urgent action to help protect staff. I urge the Government not to dismiss my petition, but listen to the voices of shopworkers and legislate for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers. They have talked about zero-tolerance, but that means very little if it is not backed up by strong actions.
“The measures the Government have agreed are worth trying and we hope that they can make a real difference. However they would be much more likely to succeed if backed up with new legislation; a simple standalone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals.
“Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”
You can view the petition here.