Renewed calls to ‘Respect Shopworkers’

Usdaw launches Respect for Shopworkers Week – while Group calls for government commitments

Usdaw – the UK’s Union for 410,000 Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers – has launched its annual Respect for Shopworkers Week with statistics showing that an average shopworker is verbally abused, threatened or assaulted more than 21 times a year.

This has been a subject of much concern to UK co-operative retail societies, which have been implementing new measures to help ensure the ongoing safety of colleagues. 

In an open letter to The Times newspaper on 11 November, Co-op Group Retail CEO, Jo Whitfield, called on the leaders of all political parties to commit to taking action to protect shopworkers from violence and abuse. She highlighted how since the Home Office’s call for evidence on abuse and violence towards shopworkers closed in June, 7,500 Co-op Group colleagues had been subjected to verbal abuse, 800 to physical violence or threats, and 500 attacked with a weapon “including knives, syringes and hammers”. 

She also highlighted a report the Group published in September by Dr Emmeline Taylor, associate professor of criminology at City University, on the ongoing and long-term impact of violence on shopworkers. 

“If nothing is done, then nothing can change,” wrote Ms Whitfield. “I urge all those hoping to form the next government to commit themselves to taking action to protect shop staff, including prioritising the response that police can give and the sanctions available to the courts.”

Interim results from Usdaw’s ‘Freedom from Fear’ survey of over 4,000 retail staff shows that so far this year, around two-thirds of shopworkers have experienced verbal abuse; 41% were threatened by a customer; and nearly 5% were assaulted (which amounts to around 400 assaults every day across all shopworkers).

“The statistics are shocking and show that urgent action is required,” said Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary. “Many UK workers are on the frontline of dealing with the public and that can mean they end up on the wrong side of a verbal or physical assault.”

Mr Lillis highlighted how five months ago Usdaw and the retail employers responded to the Home Office call for evidence, calling for action to tackle this growing problem. “We were disappointed to hear on the final day of Parliament that the Government is still analysing the evidence received, has not yet published their response and is still considering next steps … This continued delay is extremely concerning for our members.”

He added: “Our message is clear; abuse is not a part of the job. We continue to call for stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers and the introduction of a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, courts and most importantly criminals.”

Usdaw’s annual Respect for Shopworkers Week (11-17 November), is when the union’s reps and members organise awareness events as part of the Freedom from Fear Campaign, which seeks to prevent verbal abuse, threats and violent attacks at work.

“This week our members are out campaigning on high streets, in shopping centres and stores; talking to the public and asking them to ‘keep their cool and respect shopworkers’,” said Mr Lillis. “Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”

For more information on the week, visit