Union says government must ensure police and courts have the resources to treat retail crime seriously


Police cuts pose a real threat to the safety of shop workers, warns Usdaw, as a survey shows an increase in reported incidents of abuse and threats against shop staff.

The annual survey by the British Retail Consortium says that, excluding the August riots, the total number of reported incidents of verbal abuse, threats and violence against shopworkers rose by 83% in 2011, driven by a more than three-fold increase in threats and a five-fold increase in incidents of verbal abuse.

Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “The huge leap in reported incidents of verbal abuse and threats against shopworkers is extremely worrying and shows why we need to continue to work closely with the BRC, employers, police and other agencies to reduce all incidents of shop crime, create safer workplaces and ensure offenders are brought to justice.

“Shopworkers need to have real confidence that their employers, the police and the courts will support them, particularly when so many incidents result from staff themselves having to uphold the law by for example refusing under-age sales or tackling shoplifters.

“The government must also ensure the police and courts have the resources to treat retail crime seriously. The Tory-led coalition’s 20% cut to police budgets and the predicted loss of 16,000 frontline police officers and 1,800 PCSOs represent a real threat to the safety of shopworkers and Usdaw will continue to campaign for these swingeing and dangerous cuts to be reversed.”

On a more positive note, the survey shows the total number of physical assaults against shopworkers reduced by 62.8% in 2011 and the total number of incidents remains on a downward trend. Despite this year’s increase, the BRC says the total number of incidents against shopworkers has reduced by a compound annual rate of 30% in the past 7 years.

The BRC attributes part of this year’s overall increase to staff being encouraged to report all threats and incidents of verbal abuse,although the report also highlights the fact that retailers themselves still continue to report less than half of all incidents of shoplifting (46.9%) to the police.

The BRC’s survey also details the human cost of the riots and the appalling levels of violence and fear of violence faced by shopworkers in August. In total over more than 5,000 crimes were committed, including 1,860 incidents of arson and criminal damage, 1,649 burglaries, 141 incidents of disorder, 366 incidents of violence against the person and 5 fatalities. The vast majority of employers (81.5%) said their staff were fearful of violence with around a third reporting incidents of physical and verbal violence against staff.

John Hannett said: “While the reduction in the number of assaults and continuing downward trend in the total number of incidents is welcome news, our own survey figures indicate there continues to be a significant problem of under-reporting and that these figures remain the tip of a very large iceberg.

“Failure to report incidents is driven by the myth that shop crime is ‘victimless’ and a belief shared by many shopworkers and their employers that little if any effective action will be taken against perpetrators. Shop crime is never victimless and suffering abuse, threats and violence should never be regarded as part of the job.”

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