Co-op Food CEO Jo Whitfield has called on the government to introduce tougher penalties for those who attack shop workers in the face of rising numbers of incidents.
Whitfield insists stronger protection is needed for staff enforcing the law on age-restricted sales such as cigarettes or alcohol, and demanded the creation of a new offence which would carry higher penalties.
Other recommendations include a review of existing sentences handed down to attackers, new guidelines on sentencing for such offences and a major boost to police resources to help protect communities and their shop workers.
Her comments were made as quarterly figures from the Co-op show that 2,500 incidents of verbal abuse and antisocial behaviour were made against employees.
Over the same period, 600 violent episodes were recorded with one in four involving a knife, gun or other weapon.
“More needs to be done and the issue needs to be about the human cost, the physical and emotional impact to shop workers and their families, not the cost to business,” Whitfield said.
“What frustrates me most is that this is talked about as a crime against a business, but it’s not. We can replace stock, but it is not as easy to repair the physical and emotional wellbeing of a colleague, whose confidence is shaken and who feels afraid to come into work because of rising levels of violence and abuse in our communities. We must take action and work together to rethink our approach to this issue in order to ensure people feel safe when they turn up for work.”
Separate figures published by the British Retail Consortium in March revealed that 115 shop workers are attacked at work everyday and many more threatened, with knives seen as the most significant type of weapon.
Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, described the statistics as “shocking and show that urgent action is required”.
“Usdaw’s own survey revealed that on average a UK shop worker can end up on the wrong side of a verbal or physical assault nearly once a fortnight,” he said. “Our message is clear, abuse is not a part of the job.
“Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shop workers and there is still a lot to do to help protect them. We launched our Freedom From Fear campaign in the face of growing concerns amongst retail staff about violence, threats and abuse. As part of the campaign we work closely with the Co-op to promote respect and we welcome their investment in staff safety. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected - they deserve the protection of the law.”
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, named violence against employees as one of the “most pressing issues retailers faced”.
“No one should go to work fearing threats and abuse,” she said. “The spiralling cost of retail crime - both in losses and the cost of prevention - are a huge burden to a retail sector that is already weighed down by the twin challenges of skyrocketing business costs and Brexit uncertainty.”
The government is currently seeking the views and evidence from organisations and individuals on the problem of violence and abuse toward shop staff in England and Wales.
The consultation closes at 11pm on 28 June 2019.