Scottish shopworkers speak out after survey finds that violence has more than doubled in the last year


RETAIL trade union Usdaw has today (13 March) launched shocking statistics from their annual survey of over 5,500 retail staff showing that 18% of shopworkers suffered a violent attack last year, compared to 8% in 2022.

The increase in assaults comes during an epidemic of retail crime with official stats and reports from retailers showing significant increases in theft from shops. Usdaw’s survey shows that levels of violence, threats and abuse all increased compared to pre-pandemic figures. In the last twelve months (pre-pandemic levels in brackets, from the 2019 survey):

·       70% (68%) have experienced verbal abuse.

·       46% (43%) were threatened by a customer.

·       18% (5%) were assaulted.

These findings follow similar trends to recent reports from British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores. Both retail trade associations found significant increases in violence and abuse against shopworkers alongside much higher levels of shoplifting, which is costing the industry £3 billion in lost stock and security measures.

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

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.” – “Threatened to get punched and verbal abuse.” – “Challenging shoplifters on a daily basis and dealing with antisocial behaviour.” – “Grabbed me from behind.”

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.” – “Someone tried to hit me with a bottle.” – “Shouted at about queues, items not in stock or wanting a refund on an item that has been used and no receipt.”

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary, said: “It is heart-breaking to hear these testimonies from Scottish shopworkers 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 retail staff.

“No-one should feel afraid to go to work, but our evidence shows that too many retail workers are. It is shocking that nearly a fifth of our members working in retail are being assaulted for simply doing their job and serving the community. They provide an essential service and deserve our respect and the protection of the law.

“Our members have reported that they are often faced with hardened career criminals and we know that retail workers are much more likely to be abused by those who are stealing to sell goods on. Our latest survey results show that 7 in 10 retail workers suffered abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Theft from shops and armed robbery were triggers for 61% of these incidents.

“Violence and abuse is not an acceptable part of the job and much more needs to be done to protect shopworkers. 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.”

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