Shop workers, like all of us, are currently facing serious worries about the potential impact of coronavirus on themselves and their families.
They are experiencing this worry at the same time as playing an essential frontline role in getting our country through the crisis – dealing with unprecedented demand, coming into contact with hundreds of people every day, and working flat out so that customers can buy what they need.
For their efforts, shop workers deserve our heartfelt thanks. We can also help make their jobs slightly easier at this stressful time by treating them with courtesy and respect, buying only what we need, and taking precautions such as handwashing and social distancing to limit the risk of spreading infection when shopping.
Unfortunately, even at the best of times many retail workers face unacceptable levels of threats and violence while at work. I’ve been supporting the trade union Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear Campaign in the face of growing concerns among staff about abuse in the workplace. Usdaw’s research has shown that on average, over 400 shop workers across all sectors of retail are assaulted every day.
While the majority of customers have been considerate and polite, some retail staff have reported being verbally and physically assaulted at work as a result of heightened tensions due to coronavirus. This is unacceptable.
Last month, I met again with Usdaw, along with the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), British Retail Consortium (BRC) and National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN). At this time of crisis, it’s even more crucial that the Government implements our joint demands:
- Tougher penalties for attacks on shop workers
- More effective interventions to stop repeat offenders
- Make retail crime and violence a priority in every Police and Crime Commissioner’s local plan
- Focus new police resources on community policing to promote a consistent response across all force areas
I also co-sponsored a Bill in Parliament; the Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences) Bill, with Alex Norris, the MP for Nottingham North. This proposes to make committing a violent crime against a retail worker doing their job an aggravated offence, with perpetrators facing harsher sentences. The Bill has cross-party support, but the Government would need to get behind it too for it to have any chance of becoming law.
In the meantime, I have written to the Chief Executives of the major retailers with shops on Wilmslow Road in Didsbury, following concerns raised by Greater Manchester Police, local Labour Councillors and the local Didsbury Traders group about the increasing level of crime in our local stores.
I encouraged them to introduce additional preventative measures, and sought their representation at future Didsbury Traders group meetings to hear more about how staff are being affected. Many have so far agreed to meet the group and discuss what more can be done for workers, sharing our concern.
Now more than ever, we must come together to ensure shop workers can do their jobs free from fear of harassment and abuse. I am extremely grateful for the work they do.