According to Retail Gazette, Paddy Lillis, the leader of the trade union, launched the petition after it recorded a massive increase in recorded cases of shopworkers facing abuse during the coronavirus pandemic.

The survey by Usdaw revealed that shopworkers were subjected to verbal abuse, threats, or assaults every fortnight on average during 2019, but these figures doubled during the COVID-19 lockdown period.

It is now petitioning the House of Commons to enact legislation to provide protection to shopworkers, which includes making such abuse a specific offence carrying a serious penalty.

The petition includes testimonials from retail workers talking about their own experiences of ‘constant abuse’.

Lillis said that the abuse, threats and violence were appalling, especially during a national emergency. He branded it a ‘national disgrace’ that during such an unprecedented time in global history that the people who were working hard to keep shelves supplied for their communities were being subjected to abuse, and even being assaulted.

He said that the petition was needed to take further action, with a clear message: abuse is not part of the job.

“Life on the front line of retail is normally pretty tough for many shopworkers and has become much worse during the coronavirus emergency,” he said

“Shopworkers are on the front line of feeding the country, providing an essential service in very difficult circumstances, working long hours in busy stores, facing abuse from customers and, of course, concerned that they may become infected with COVID-19.”

The union has urged the government not to dismiss the petition, and to listen to the testaments of retail workers, and to legislate stiff penalties to combat the increase in abuse suffered by such frontline workers.

Lillis said that talk of ‘zero tolerance’ policies will mean nothing if they are not backed up by actions, and shopworkers deserve the protection of the law as they provide a vital service to their communities that needs to be valued and respected.

In July, the government responded to calls to get tough on perpetrators of abuse and violence against retail workers.

The Home Office said last month that it would work with the National Retail Crime Steering Group (NRCSG) on a ‘best practice guide to support staff in reporting these crimes’, as well as aiming to ‘strengthen existing laws and improve data sharing between retail businesses and the police’.

The government stated that its crime and policing minister would also write to police chiefs ‘underscoring the importance of working closely with local businesses to tackle this issue and emphasising that the theft of goods valued up to £200 from a shop should be prosecuted as a criminal offence’.

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