Customers threatened 70% of shop workers during Covid, survey finds

Shop workers in Northern Ireland are among the 70 per cent across the UK who have been threatened by customers during the pandemic, it has been revealed.

Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 8:00 am

Retail trade union USDAW (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) has launched a Freedom from Fear summer campaign this week, after publishing “shocking” results from its annual survey. Results from almost 2000 UK staff in the past 12 months who that;-

• 92 per cent have experienced verbal abuse,

• 70 per cent were threatened by a customer,

Panicked shoppers emptied the shelves of supermarkets due to Covid. Stores sold out of toilet paper, pasta and other food in March last year. Picture: Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

• 14 per cent were assaulted,

• One in five victims have never reported an incident to their employer, including 5 per cent who had been assaulted.

Some of the NI shop workers offered the following comments. One said they had suffered “people throwing things at me, being abusive about waiting times and about not wearing masks”.

Another said they had been “called names and sexually harassed” while a third said they had been “Physically slapped by a customer, spat at and had groceries thrown at me”.

A further shop worker said they had suffered “high volumes of verbal abuse” when following the legal guideline allowing them to ask for proof of age when serving alcohol to anyone appearing to be under 25 - or when being asked to serve alcohol to individuals who are “already under the influence”.

A final NI worker said they had been “screamed at for not having stock” and had a basket thrown at them “because we didn’t have the ready meal he wanted”. They added that another customer “threatened to wait on me outside” when the worker finished “because she was unable to get a refund.”

Usdaw General Secretary Paddy Lillis said it was “heart-breaking to hear these testimonies from Northern Irish shop workers who deserve far more respect than they receive.”

He said a new protection of shop workers law comes into force in Scotland this week, but that USDAW is “deeply disappointed” that the UK Government has continued to resist similar measures in England, Wales and NI.

Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said last year that abuse had doubled under lockdown.

He added: “During lockdown, Retail workers put their own health at risk to ensure people could buy food and other essential items. It is shameful that so many staff have been the victim of verbal and physical abuse by customers over the last 12 months. We fully support USDAW’s campaign and would urge the NI Executive to follow Scotland and pass legislation to give shop staff greater protection”.