When we think about those working through the pandemic, many think about the NHS staff, police force, fire, and ambulance services. But there are one group of key workers who have been vital in keeping Wales and the rest of the UK going and that are retail workers.
However, since the start of the lockdown in March, there has been increasing reports of retail workers receiving violent and abusive behaviour from customers. In response to this increase in violent behaviour, one supermarket chain Co-op announced that they were going to supply frontline staff who worked at 250 stores with body cameras.
The issue surrounding retail workers becoming victims of violent and abusive behaviour is one that has been around for years. But has the recent COVID-19 pandemic caused this sort of behaviour to increase? And is there anything being done to help protect retail workers?
In a recent article from ITV Wales, it mentioned that violent and abusive behaviour more than doubled during the pandemic, with the USDAW (a union representing welsh shop workers) calling for a law to protect retail workers from such behaviour.
Many retail workers who worked at supermarkets and other retailers felt anxious returning to work in fear that they would either be spat at, coughed or sneezed in response to them asking for customers to socially distance – as well as being pushed and verbally abused when enforcing buying limits on in-demand goods or being unable to issue returns on goods.
The USDAW conducted a survey and found that 1 in 6 shop workers were being abused on every shift and well over half (62%) of 5,000 workers surveyed said they experienced verbal abuse since the start of the pandemic. Whilst a third had been threatened by a customer and 4% had been assaulted.
One retail worker who took part in the USDAW survey said “I had never cried in work until the first week of the lockdown. I received constant abuse from nearly every customer during one shift when the rules were changed so that we couldn’t accept returns. I finally broke when one woman refused to leave the store and insulted me and berated me for not doing the return.
“The following day a man was very aggressive towards me for the same reason and I could visibly see him twitching in a way that suggested he was about to become violent. My job has become emotionally draining and it is really starting to affect my mental health.”
When averaged across the entire retail sector of 3 million workers, it showed that 3,500 workers were assaulted every day over a 34day period.
So what action is being taken to ensure the safety of retail workers?
The government has set out plans to crack down on the violent and abusive behaviour the retailers face on a daily basis. This included working alongside the National Retail Crime Steering Group (NRCSG) on best-practise guide to help support shop workers report acts of violent and abusive behaviour, strengthening and making full use of existing laws, and improving data sharing between businesses and the police.
However, there is opposition out there who think that the government’s plans aren’t enough to protect retail staff effectively. The BRC and Association of stores have both criticised the home office for not seeking to introduce specific and harsher offences to those attacking shop workers. ACS’s CEO said, ‘Warm words and working groups aren’t enough; we need tougher penalties for attacks on shopworkers and more police resources to stamp out violence”.
If your retail staff have been a victim of abusive and violent behaviour before and during the pandemic, then speak to us about our effective retail security solutions. Our manned guards hold full SIA licenses and are fully trained to act accordingly to protect your retail staff from abusive and violent customers. To learn more about how we can help take a look at our website here or get in touch with us on 01656 713950.