Scottish shopworkers speak out about violence, threats and abuse

Tracy Gilbert (USDAW)

RETAIL trade union Usdaw has launched shocking statistics from their annual survey during this year’s Respect for Shopworkers Week. Interim results from over 3,000 retail staff responses across the UK show that in the last twelve months:

  • 65% have experienced verbal abuse.
  • 42% were threatened by a customer.
  • 5% were assaulted.
  • 60% of these incidents were triggered by shoplifting and two-thirds of those were linked to addiction.

The annual Respect for Shopworkers Week runs from 13-19 November, with Usdaw members raising awareness of the union’s year-round Freedom from Fear Campaign and talking to the public to promote a message of ‘respect for shopworkers’.

Scottish voices from the frontline: These are some of the comments Scottish shopworkers shared when responding to Usdaw’s survey:

Central Scotland: “Customer wasn’t sold alcohol and became verbally aggressive, they left but I felt shaken.” – “Customer wasn’t happy about something and took it out on me by shouting.” – “Most abuse when asking for ID for age identification.”

Glasgow: “Shouting at me, getting in my face, calling me names, saying I’m useless, swearing, using derogatory female terms.” – “Pregnant member of staff got assaulted with a solar light.” – “Attacked in the car park finishing shift.”

Highlands and Islands: “Have been pushed and punched.” – “Called horrible name and barged past by a customer who I asked to leave because he is barred for shoplifting.”

Lothian: “Threats to stab us, wait for us to finish etc.” – “Customers who are drunk issuing vague threats, personal insults.” – “Touched by a male customer, he got angry, called me a rat and a lesbian because I didn’t want to be touched.”

Mid-Scotland and Fife: “Verbal abuse daily, at Christmas get threats.” – “Grabbed me from behind.” “Threatened to get punched and verbal abuse.” – “Abused when challenging shoplifters on a daily basis and dealing with anti-social behaviour.”

North East Scotland: “Customer said they liked my hair then pulled it.” – “Intentionally swung his basket at me after being told the alcohol aisle was closed.” – “Swearing directed towards me when asking shoplifter to leave the store.”

South Scotland: “Abuse from youths on a daily basis – “Threats and violence from shoplifters under the influence of drink and drugs.” – “Customer spit in my face after assaulting security.” – “Hit with packs of cakes and called a fat lazy cow.”

West Scotland: “Hit in the face by a drunk man with a basket.” – “Shouted at about queues, items not in stock or wanting a refund on an item that has been used and no receipt.” – “Someone tried to hit me with a bottle.”

Tracy Gilbert, Usdaw Regional Secretary for Scotland, said: “Shopworkers deserve far more respect than they receive and these experiences from Scottish retail workers make very difficult reading. Our latest survey results clearly show the scale of the appalling violence, threats and abuse they face.                          

“Two-thirds of our members working in retail are suffering abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Six in ten of these incidents were triggered by theft from shops, which is clearly the result of a 21% increase in incidents of shoplifting as recorded by Police Scotland. Our survey demonstrates that shoplifting is not a victimless crime, theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers. 

“Our members are not only in fear of being a victim of crime, they are distressed that too few criminals are being caught and punished. Faced with such appallingly high levels of violence and abuse much more needs to be done. We were delighted to have won the campaign for a protection of workers law in the Scottish Parliament, but that is the beginning not the end. We have to ensure that the legislation is central to tackle a growing wave of retail crime and Usdaw looks forward to working with Police Scotland to make that happen.

“This week Usdaw activists are campaigning in their workplaces and communities calling on the shopping public to ‘respect shopworkers’ and ‘keep your cool’, particularly in the run-up to Christmas when the number of incidents increases as shops get busy and customers become frustrated. This is a hugely important issue for our members and they are saying loud and clear that enough is enough.”

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