Freedom from Fear – Northern Ireland shopworkers speak out about abuse, violence and threats

Freedom from Fear – Northern Ireland shopworkers speak out about abuse, violence and threats

Northern Irish shopworkers speak out about violence, threats and abuse – Usdaw renews the call for a new protection of workers law

Retail trade union Usdaw has launched a Freedom from Fear summer campaign week from 22-29 August, with shocking statistics from their annual survey. Preliminary results from nearly 2,000 retail staff across the UK show that in the last twelve months:

  • 92% have experienced verbal abuse,
  • 70% were threatened by a customer,
  • 14% were assaulted.
  • One in five victims have never reported an incident to their employer, including 5% who had been assaulted.

Northern Irish voices from the frontline

These are some of the comments Northern Irish shopworkers shared when responding to Usdaw’s survey:

  • “People throwing things at me, being abusive about waiting times and about not wearing masks.”
  • “I have been called names and sexually harassed.”
  • “Physically slapped by a customer, spat at and had groceries thrown at me.”
  • “High volumes of verbal abuse when either following the Think 25 policy or refusing to serve an individual alcohol who is already under the influence.”
  • “Screamed at for not having stock. Basket thrown at me because we didn’t have the ready meal he wanted. Threatened to wait on me outside the store when I finished because she was unable to get a refund.”

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “It is heart-breaking to hear these testimonies from Northern Irish shopworkers who deserve far more respect than they receive. Our latest survey results clearly show the scale of the appalling violence, threats and abuse faced by shopworkers and demonstrate the need for a ‘protection of shopworkers’ law.

“It has been a terrible year for our members, with over 90% of shopworkers suffering abuse, more than two-thirds threatened and one in seven assaulted. We are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be part of the job. At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a disgrace that staff working to keep food on the shelves and the shop safe for customers are being abused. Action to protect shop workers is needed.

“Today a new protection of shopworkers law comes into force in Scotland, but we are deeply disappointed that the UK Government has continued to resist a similar measure in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Retail staff across the UK have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.

“This is a hugely important issue for our members. They are deeply concerned that the current high levels of abuse will become the norm, unless the Government takes urgent and meaningful action. Shopworkers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough. The Government has promised to bring forward an amendment to their flagship policing bill in the House of Lords and we urge them to keep their word.”

Commenting on the survey Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “Sadly these figures of increased staff abuse come as no surprise”

“During lockdown, Retail workers put their own health at risk to ensure people could buy food and other essential items. It is shameful that so many staff have been the victim of verbal and physical abuse by customers over the last 12 months”

“We fully support USDAW’s Freedom from Fear campaign and would urge the NI Executive to follow Scotlands lead and pass legislation to give shop staff greater protection from such abuse”