Shop staff shouldn't be scared to go to work

December 21 2020
Shop staff shouldn't be scared to go to work

Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy writes for the Voice

SHOPWORKERS have played a key role throughout the pandemic, ensuring food, medicine and other essentials remained accessible in a time of crisis. They offered a reassuring presence on the front line and, for some, provided the only form of social interaction during an isolating and anxious time.

This year, we’ve seen people come together and show real community solidarity.

There have been record donations to those in need, and I’ve heard countless stories of neighbours delivering shopping for elderly neighbours or those isolating.

However, there is no escaping the fact that 2020 has been extremely challenging for everyone’s mental health and there’s no doubt that tensions have been aggravated and frustrations have often boiled over.

Mask-wearing, social distancing and panic buying were flashpoints for violence in UK stores. Shopworkers, who played no part in establishing the rules and regulations that customers had to abide by, were shouted at or assaulted for simply following orders from their managers or the law.

Back in November I visited Straits Parade Co-op in Fishponds during Shopworkers’ Week. I met with staff and representatives from the retail union Usdaw to discuss their experiences of abuse and the measures they deem necessary to curb it. It is appalling to hear that some Bristol stores have become hot spots for incidents.

There is no excuse for the violence that has occurred. The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) Crime Report 2020 showed that over the past year, there have been an estimated 50,338 incidents of violence and threats towards shopworkers across the UK. This represented a 40% increase in violence and abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic.

So not only have shopworkers had to endure increasingly pressurised and difficult working conditions as a consequence of coronavirus measures, they have also been subjected to an upturn in abuse.

This must stop. Staff shouldn't be scared to go to work in our local shops.

The Co-op have released their own data which suggests that “one in five customers admitted showing aggression towards front-line store staff during covid, despite the fact that 90% of the British public feel that shopworkers have provided an essential service”.

This form of daily abuse has severe ramifications for workers’ mental and often physical well-being.

In response to this, along with Usdaw and the Co-op, I am backing my colleague Alex Norris MP’s Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences) Bill, which would treat offences as aggravated when perpetrated against retail workers, leading to tougher penalties.

The Government needs to support retail staff by backing this Bill too, and work should also be done with local community groups to tackle the causes of crime. Shopworkers must be afforded the respect and consideration they so richly deserve.

To contact Kerry McCarthy email kerry.mccarthy.mp@parliament.ukor call 0117 939 9901.