Co-op Group continues campaign to end violence against shop workers

The retailer is highlighting the plight of retail workers as crime and violence against shop workers increases

Store crime has risen 140% year on year, with the coronavirus pandemic worsening the issue. Shop workers have also been spat at and threatened with being ‘given coronavirus’, says the Co-op Group, which is warning of a store crime epidemic unless the Government urgently introduces new legislation to provide staff with greater protection.

Last year the government launched a call for evidence from organisations and individuals about the problem of violence and abuse toward shop staff in England and Wales. The call for evidence closed a year ago, on 28 June 2019, but there has been no response from the government.

Co-op Food CEO, Jo Whitfield, said: “Last year, more than 600 of my colleagues bravely took the time to share their own experiences of abuse, violence and intimidation with the Home Office as part of their call for evidence. Yet here we are, a year on since the consultation closed and there has still been no response.

“My colleagues need to have their contributions acknowledged in order to know that the Government takes retail crime seriously. This issue is not going away, it’s just getting worse thanks to the onset of Coronavirus.”

She added that the role played by shop workers in serving their communities, particularly during the last three months, “is nothing short of amazing and they have rightly been deemed as key workers who are playing an essential role in keeping the nation fed”. Yet despite this recognition, they are continually disrespected and have to contend with unprecedented levels of violence and abuse on a daily basis. 

The Co-op Group is also calling on MPs to support their constituents in backing MP Alex Norris’ Assault on Shop Workers Bill which has seen its second reading in Parliament postponed. It states that because shop workers have responsibilities to uphold the law on age restricted products, they should be afforded greater protection in carrying out those public duties.

Ms Whitfield said she would be supporting the Bill and would be asking her peers at other retailers to do the same. “Enough is enough – store workers need to know that the Government is serious about tackling this issue and as an industry we must be united in protecting our workers,” she said. 

Alex Norris MP agreed that “a year is far too long to wait for the Government to respond on such an important issue,” adding: “Every day that they’re slow to act is a day when staff are left unprotected. Quicker action could have made a difference for hundreds over the last few months.”

As part of its Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities Campaign, hundreds of Co-op Group colleagues from around the UK have filmed short videos detailing their harrowing experiences and will be sharing these on social media, asking for MPs to show their support.

“I have faced physical and verbal abuse and have been physically assaulted,” said Claire Saunders, Co-op store manager in Romford. “Recently a shop lifter threatened to spit in my face and give me Coronavirus. This is not part of our job and it is just not acceptable.”