By: Nadeem Badshah
Survey shows violent incidents in shops increased during the pandemic
TOUGHER laws are needed to tackle rising levels of abuse and violence against shop workers, according to business owners and retail chiefs.
Around 85.5 per cent of employees surveyed said they suffered verbal abuse in 2020, with 56.8 per cent saying they were threatened and 16.3 per cent assaulted during their career, research by the Usdaw trade union found.
Asked if they had experienced rising violence and abuse at work during the coronavirus pandemic, 76 per cent said it was either “much worse” or “worse”.
A motion by the Labour party calling for new laws to create a specific offence of abusing, threatening or assaulting a retail worker was defeated in the House of Commons in July following a vote. It has led to fresh calls by MPs and store workers for more police help and tougher punishments for perpetrators.
Hussan Lal, a retailer from Paisley, Scotland, told Eastern Eye: “We are experiencing incidents just about every week.
“I have been threatened with a screwdriver and my niece has been physically assaulted and racially abused for stopping a man stealing a case of lager.
“But even though we have downloaded CCTV footage of the incidents for the police, nothing is done. At the moment, the police are giving the green light to anyone who steals goods worth less than £20, because they know they will get away with it.”
Last month Ameer Khan, 30, was jailed for 30 months after being convicted of attacking a shopkeeper in Leeds, Yorkshire, with a metal bar which left him with a fractured cheekbone.
Also in July, Derek Carson was given a two-year supervision order and 80 hours of unpaid work after being found guilty of hurling abuse at shop staff before flinging stones through the window in Scotland.
Usman Younas, who runs supermarket Watan Superstore in Bradford, said: “The existing laws have been there for so long, it doesn’t deter people anymore.
“People think ‘they are just workers, who are they to talk to me’. They know they will get away with it, police will just caution them and they will carry on. If they introduce new laws and highlight them in the media, police will have to enforce them.
“Like in the NHS there are clear signs, ‘you will be refused to be seen if abusive’, so they are not at liberty to talk nonsense.
“On the spot fines work best or take their name down and they won’t be allowed back in the shop.”
Afzal Khan, Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, said throughout the pandemic, shopworkers have put themselves at risk to serve their communities.
He told Eastern Eye: “All too often the reward for working so hard has been unacceptable levels of abuse, with surveys showing almost 90 per cent having suffered verbal abuse, with two-thirds threatened and nearly one in 10 assaulted.
“This must stop. That is why Labour is seeking to change the law to give additional protection to our retail workers.”
The British Retail Consortium’s most recent crime survey showed a seven per cent year-on-year increase in incidents of violence and abuse in 2019, a total of 455 cases each day.
Stuart Reddish, national president of the Federation of Independent Retailers, said recent research by retailers shows the rate of incidents has risen even further during the coronavirus pandemic “as our members have worked hard to support their local communities and provide a shopping environment that is safe for customers and staff alike”.
“No-one should face verbal or physical abuse just for going to work, but this has, for too long, been the reality of working in the retail sector,” he added. “Incidents of verbal abuse and physical attacks have become a daily occurrence for millions of shop workers and have increased dramatically during the Covid pandemic.
“Other frontline workers, such as the emergency services and customs officers, are quite rightly given extra protection by the law in recognition of the service they provide to the public and the responsibility placed upon them.
“Shop workers are just as much in the firing line and deserve the same level of protection from the law and an appropriate response from the police.”
Crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse said the government is putting 20,000 extra police officers into communities to cut offences “including retail crime”.
He added: “The Sentencing Council has set out guidelines that mean courts should be increasing sentences for assaults committed against those providing a service to the public, including shop workers.”