Stronger safeguards to protect shop workers from violence and abuse are being considered by the UK government and are being called for in the Irish Republic.
A review of current measures has been promised as attacks and threats against staff continue to increase.
Indications of further action came in the Commons last week from junior work and pensions minister Chris Pond at the end of a debate highlighting the scale of the problem.
Labour MP for Waveney Bob Blizzard warned of a growing incidence of violence.
“It is now all too common for staff to receive verbal abuse, to be threatened with a weapon -
be it a knife or a walking stick - or even to be spat at,” he said.
Prompted by shopworkers union Usdaw’s Freedom from Fear campaign, the MP said he had been shocked to discover that between 1995 and 2002 more than 118,000 shop staff were victims of physical abuse, some 250,000 were threatened with violence while more than 500,000 were subjected to verbal abuse. “Employees living under the shadow of fear can become demotivated and miss work, particularly certain shifts that might be vulnerable,” he added.
One of the factors behind increasing violence had been the government’s moves to cut crime on the streets. Blizzard explained: “Persistent offenders are targeting shops instead.”
The minister insisted: “The government is committed to tackling this problem.
“We will look carefully to see whether we should be doing more, in addition to the measures that we are already adopting, to address this issue and to ensure shop workers and others can go about their work free from the fear and risk of violence.”
Violence against staff was also one of the main issues at the conference of Mandate, the Irish shopworkers’ union.
Outgoing president Mary Larkin claimed nearly 2,000 Irish retail staff were assaulted every year, and many more subjected to verbal abuse from customers.
The union has written to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and to the Irish Business and Employers Confederation calling for action, including the establishment of a code of practice to tackle harassment of staff by customers. “Violence, abuse and intimidation must not be regarded as an occupational hazard for shop-workers,” warned Larkin.
Bill Doult