Central England Co-op has highlighted the problem of store workers being abused by customers who threaten to cough on them and infect them with Covid-19.
The retail society raised its concerns in its response to government plans to deal with abuse of frontline retail staff.
Central England – along with the Co-op Group, the other independent retail societies, the Co-operative Party and Usdaw trade union – has been lobbying ministers for new laws to crackdown on retail crime, which has risen dramatically in recent years.
The situation has worsened since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, the co-op adds, citing figures which show assaults have jumped by 100%, threats and intimidation by 25% and verbal abuse by 175% since the start of the year.
And since lockdown was introduced, there have been over 100 incidents related directly to people using Covid-19 as a threat. Incidents include multiple threats by customers to cough on store workers and infect them with the virus. Further threats have come from people angry over having to queue to enter stores, social distancing measures or items running out of stock.
Central England’s concerns over Covid-19 related threats come as the government released figures which show a higher death rate from the virus among sales assistants in stores. The death rate is 75% higher than the general population for men, and 60% for women – prompting ministers to make the wearing of masks compulsory in stores.
In its response to the retailers’ campaign on crime, the government is suggesting measures such as best practice guidance on reporting of crime; having police reach out to retailers to understand problems in their areas; and tougher rules on shoplifting prosecutions.
Debbie Robinson, CEO at Central England, said: “While we welcome these positive steps by the government, we still think more could and should be done to protect our store colleagues and all shop workers from threats and physical abuse.
“We continue to believe that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable, and we will not tolerate any kind of abuse to our colleagues and we again urge the Government to work harder to recognise the people it itself has recognised as being of vital importance to our daily lives.
“Their amazing contribution now needs to be recognised by a change in the law so anyone who takes the decision to cross the line with our colleagues knows that retail crime is taken seriously.
“We are aware that this is not just a Central England Co-op problem, it is an industry-wide problem, and this is why we will continue to work closely with other co-operatives and retailers to campaign for change.”