Aisle be there: Rupa Huq after meeting Morrison
Aisle be there: Rupa Huq after meeting Morrison's staff in Acton

This news featured in the Ealing Times.

Supermarket shop workers last week told their local MP of the worrying rise in abuse they have received since the Covid-19 pandemic started. 

Ealing Central and Acton MP Rupa Huq met with Morrisons Acton on High Street after 23 of the UK’s top retailers called on the Government to toughen penalties for those who assault workers in the course of their employment. According to a recent survey by the British Retail Consortium [BRC], over 400 retail workers face violence and abuse in the workplace every day. Huq heard of horrifying stories of incidents faced by the Morrisons team over the years including theft and abuse, which has only deteriorated since lockdown was first imposed in March. 

Huq said their experiences highlighted the need for the Government to pass a Private Members Bill that would toughen penalties against those who assault retail workers. Alex Norris MP’s Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences) Bill, which goes before the Commons next month, would ensure the protection of staff by creating a “specific offence of abusing, threatening or assaulting a retail worker.”

Huq said: “During lockdown, the number of physical assaults on staff in one retailer alone went up by 56 per cent. It is disgraceful that supermarket workers, who have kept the nation fed and watered throughout this crisis, are increasingly on the receiving end of physical violence and threatening behaviour. 

“I was grateful to hear from the staff here at Morrisons. Everyone should feel safe at work which is why assaults on shop workers, doing vital work for the country and the economy, are simply unacceptable. On the basis of my discussions with staff here, I will be supporting the bill on Friday as tougher penalties are quite clearly required.”

Huq then added her name to the British Retail Corporation’s Shopworkers Protection Pledge, vowing to champion shopworkers locally, recognise the serious impact that violence and abuse has on them and support tougher legislation to protect them. Morrisons workers, including Stanley the union representative and Rizz the store-manager, said they were amazed at the public support for their campaign, citing an USDAW petition that has received over 63,000 signatures.   

Paddy Lillis, USDAW General Secretary, said: “I urge the Government to listen to the voices of shopworkers and retailers by legislating for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers. If they want to turn their words of sympathy into action, they should support the Bill and help it onto the statute book. 

“When retailers and the trade union for shop workers jointly call for action, it is time for the Government to listen to our concerns and deliver much needed protection for staff. Abuse must never be just a part of the job.” 

The union’s  survey earlier this year found that incidents of abuse doubled during the pandemic and suggested that the UK’s 3,000,000 retail staff could face a total of 3,538 assaults per day.

62% of the 4,928 respondents to the union survey said they had faced verbal abuse since the pandemic began, whilst 29% reported being threatened and 4% reported being assaulted.

On the visit, Huq also got the chance to see how the store has expanded. It has taken on new shop-floor staff for the duration of the pandemic, and has rebuilt a former goods yard into an Amazon depot for delivered food ordered through the website, necessitating a dedicated 50 brand new behind-the-scenes workforce.

Huq praised the workers for their efforts during the crisis, adding: “We clapped for carers week after week but supermarket staff such as the team at Morrison’s are equally deserving of our immense gratitude. They may not wear capes but in many senses, just like our frontline emergency services, they are true superheroes.”

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