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Retail workers suffering verbal, sexual and physical abuse from customers

Image credit: Julien Behal/PA

Retail workers suffering verbal, sexual and physical abuse from customers

Scottish retail workers are being verbally abused, threatened or assaulted on average 17 times a year, a Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) survey has found.

USDAW’s annual survey of 1,000 retail staff found 60 per cent of shopworkers experienced verbal abuse, 32 per cent had been threatened by a customer and 2.3 per cent had been assaulted.

Workers reported sexual harassment, customers throwing items at them when they were unhappy with the price and being verbally abused when refusing to sell customers alcohol or cigarettes, among other incidents.

“Got flashed by a customer, have had customers grab me and comment on my breasts,” a survey respondent from Glasgow said.

“Customers very aggressive when refused sale of age restricted products, particularly alcohol.  They think it’s ok to shout and swear at you using language that is disgusting and personal insults,” a respondent from Broxburn said.

“Shoplifter tried to head butt and kick me whilst he was being detained. Threatened to find my family using social media and slash their faces,” another respondent from Glasgow said.

USDAW is calling on the Scottish Government to back Scottish Labour MSP Daniel Johnson’s Protection of Workers Bill, which will be formally lodged in parliament today.

The bill proposes to increase protection for workers in the retail sector by creating new offences: assaulting a worker in the retail sector or involved in the sale/supply of age-restricted goods or services, and abusing, harassing, threatening or obstructing a worker involved in the sale or supply of age-restricted goods or services.

USDAW general secretary said the union’s message was “abuse is not part of the job”.

“Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers and there is still a lot to do to help protect them,” he said.

“There needs to be a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, 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.”

Johnson said there had been a “meaningful consultation and drafting process” leading up to introducing the bill.

“Abuse and threatening behaviour should not be part of the job, and with the busy Christmas shopping season fast approaching it is now more important than ever that this is recognised,” he said.

“I believe this bill will secure the rights of all those workers who feel threatened at their place of work and will make it clear that such behaviour will not and should not be tolerated. I would like to take this opportunity to thank USDAW and all those other trade unions and organisations that have worked with me and look forward to speaking with parliamentary colleagues as the bill makes its way through the necessary parliamentary stages.”

Scotmid Co-operative head of profit protection Jim McFedries said the supermarket chain fully supported and welcomed the introduction of the legislation, “because it is time to put a stop to these alarming incidents that happen in our stores and across the industry”.

“As a community convenience retailer, we strongly believe our staff should not be subjected to violence or anti-social behaviour when they are simply just doing their jobs,” he said.

“We strongly believe the introduction of this private members bill will take a giant stride towards eradicating this ongoing issue for our colleagues and ultimately lead to a positive change.”

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