The latest quarterly figures from the supermarket chain show 2,500 incidents of verbal abuse and anti-social behaviour across the UK, with 600 violent incidents over the same period. One in four violent incidents involved a knife, gun or other weapon.
Co-op Food ceo Jo Whitfield has called on the government to create a new offence which would carry higher penalties for attacks where the shop worker is enforcing the law on age-restricted sales, such as cigarettes or alcohol; a review of existing sentences handed down to attackers; new guidelines on sentencing for such offences; and a major boost to police resources to help protect communities and their shop workers.
Jo said: “More needs to be done and the issue needs to be about the human cost – the physical and emotional impact to shop workers and their families – not the cost to business. What frustrates me most is that this is talked about as a crime against a business, but it’s not. We can replace stock, but it’s not as easy to repair the physical and emotional well-being of a colleague, whose confidence is shaken and who feels afraid to come in to work because of rising levels of violence and abuse in our communities.
“We must take action and work together to re-think our approach to this issue, in order to ensure people feel safe when they turn up for work.”
Paddy Lillis, general secretary of Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) said: “Violence, threats and abuse against workers are amongst the great scourges of our society. The statistics are shocking and show that urgent action is required. Usdaw’s own survey revealed that on average a UK shopworker can end up on the wrong side of a verbal or physical assault nearly once a fortnight. Our message is clear: abuse is not a part of the job.
“Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers and there is still a lot to do to help protect them. We launched our Freedom From Fear Campaign in the face of growing concerns amongst retail staff about violence, threats and abuse. As part of the campaign, we work closely with the Co-op to promote respect and we welcome their investment in staff safety. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected. They deserve the protection of the law.”
Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “Violence against employees remains one of the most pressing issues retailers face, yet our Crime Survey once again shows we have seen an increase in the overall number of incidents.
“Every day, 115 people are attacked at work. Such crimes harm not just hardworking employees, but also their families and communities. No one should go to work fearing threats and abuse. The spiralling cost of retail crime – both in losses and the cost of prevention – are a huge burden to a retail sector that is already weighed down by the twin challenges of skyrocketing business costs and Brexit uncertainty.”
Last year Co-op launched its Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities Campaign, and is working to raise awareness of the issue. It has invested over £70 million – and has committed to match this over the next three years – in technology to keep its colleagues safe, including the installation of the latest remote monitored CCTV, communication headset devices rolled-out to all front-line colleagues, and the targeted deployment of SmartWater Fog Cannons. The retailer has also removed the sale of knives from its stores.
The government has opened a ‘call for evidence’ following pressure from Usdaw, the Co-op and retailers’ representative organisations including the Association of Convenience Stores, BRC and National Federation of Retail Newsagents. It is seeking the views of organisations and individuals who wish to contribute. This consultation closes at 11pm on June 28 2019 and submissions can be made online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/violence-and-abuse-toward-shop-staff-call-for-evidence or https://www.usdaw.org.uk/HOsurvey