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Shop workers experienced increased abuse from customers during Covid-19 pandemic

By Ollie Rudden

88% of retail workers experience verbal abuse and 60% threatened by customers according to figures from USDAW.

Shop workers, a part-time job held by many students to support their studies, have experienced increased abuse on the job during the Covid-19 pandemic according to figures from trade union USDAW (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers).

USDAW are calling for customers to show respect for shop workers following their data collected from 2020 which shows that 79% of retail workers say abuse they suffered under Covid-19 was worse than the year before. Additionally, the report finds that 88% of staff experience verbal abuse from customers, 60% were threatened by a customer and 9% were assaulted by a customer.

Shop workers from Glasgow even commented to USDAW for their survey giving examples of abuse they suffered which include:  “Customer swore at me and hit with sandwich”, “Varies from comments such as stupid bitch, jobsworth, being told to fuck off, or shut up”, “Finger pointing in face and being poked with finger”, and “Customer trying to punch me on the body.”

Paddy Lillis, USDAW general secretary, said: “It is heart-breaking to hear these testimonies from Scottish shop workers 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 shop workers. It has been a terrible year for our members, with almost 90% of shop workers suffering abuse, two-thirds threatened and one in ten 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. So we very much welcomed the ground-breaking legislation to protect shop workers from violence, threats and abuse, passed by the Scottish Parliament in January. USDAW has campaigned for many years to secure these legal protections.”

Glasgow students who work in shops similarly reported abuse. One noted specific dangers brought on by the pandemic: “In my job the aisles are so narrow that people seem to disregard distancing rules completely, especially when I’m stocking shelves or collecting orders. I am not a human ornament but a human being.” There have also been hostile attitudes towards shop rule enforcement, with one student shop worker stating: “Frequently, we’re told by management to enforce the rules the company has outlined, but so often, if we ask customers to follow them, we either get ignored or told we’re being ridiculous. One customer called me ‘a brainless sheep’ because I told them we weren’t taking cash at the minute.”

To read the report from USDAW, click here.


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