Reopening means respecting shop workers


8 April 2021

Ahead of the reopening of ‘non-essential’ retail on 12th April, the British Retail Consortium and Usdaw are asking people to play their part in keeping shop workers safe and ensuring there is no risk to the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

The government has recently published its updated safety guidance ahead of reopening which makes clear that all customers will have to continue to follow social distancing rules; shop alone or in small groups; queue or follow one-way signs where necessary; follow hygiene rules; and wear a face covering unless they have an exemption.

The pandemic has seen a shocking rise in violence and abuse against shopworkers, with incidents often occurring when staff encourage customers to follow these rules. Shopworkers have been coughed on, attacked and threatened, just for doing their job, and the situation has been getting worse.

In September, the BRC launched its Shopworkers’ Protection Pledge asking MPs to pledge to tackle retail crime and support legislation to better protect retail workers. 57 MPs from all major parties signed the pledge, championing shopworkers by “recognising the serious impact that violence and abuse has on shopworkers and the local communities they serve and stand with retail workers to support legislation to better protect them.” Over 65 retail CEOs recently wrote to the Prime Minister calling for greater protection for shopworkers. Late last year, the influential House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee launched an inquiry into the issue the day after Usdaw secured over 104,000 signatures on a ‘protect shopworkers’ petition. In January, the Scottish Parliament unanimously voted for a ground-breaking new law to protect shopworkers.  The final results of Usdaw’s 2020 survey of 2,729 shopworkers across the UK found that: 88% experienced verbal abuse; 60% were threatened by a customer; 9% were assaulted, and 79% of shopworkers say abuse was worse last year.

Retailers have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on measures designed to prevent the transmission of Covid, including safety glass, queue management systems, social distancing signage, better ventilation, and more frequent cleaning. These measures have been updated in accordance with the latest Government guidance, which addresses issues such as testing of staff, use of fitting rooms, and safe use of air conditioning and ventilation. Shopworkers will once again be working hard to support customers while following the safety guidance. 

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium said: 

“Retailers are ready and are looking forward to welcoming people back into stores. Hopefully, things will start to get back to normal soon, but for now we need to be cautious and to look out for each other. We all need to play our part to keep ourselves, our fellow customers, and hardworking retail colleagues safe, so we are asking people to stick to the rules and not to overreact if someone asks you to wear a face covering or follow safety instructions when you’re out shopping.

“The recent surge in violence against shopworkers must end. Our colleagues have played a vital role in getting food and other items into our homes during the pandemic – ensuring everyone has access to the items they need and keeping stores safe for customers and colleagues. Yet they have been coughed at, spat on, racially abused, and threatened with weapons. No one should go to work fearing for their safety. This is why we are asking everyone – now and in the future – to be respectful to shopworkers. They deserve our thanks.”

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary said:
“The reopening of stores on Monday offers a lifeline for many retailers, which helps to safeguard jobs, but the virus is still out there. We expect employers to follow the agreed guidance and ensure that customers are fully informed of the necessary safety measures. Shoppers need to play their part in helping to limit the spread of the virus and avoid further lockdowns by following the rules and respecting staff.

“Regrettably, throughout this appalling pandemic, incidents of abuse towards shopworkers doubled. It should never be just a part of the job and shopworkers must be respected, we need a ‘protection of shopworkers’ law. It has been a terrible year, with Usdaw’s survey finding that nearly 90% of shopworkers suffered abuse and Covid safety measures have now become the significant flashpoints. When retailers and the shopworkers’ trade union jointly call for legislation, it is time for the Government to listen and take retail crime seriously.”