With the increased pressures brought about by social distancing and the lock down unions such as USDAW who represent workers in shops like Tesco and Sainsburys have seen a sharp uptick in verbal harassment of workers.
Over the last few years their Freedom from Fear campaign has surveyed and polled workers in retail and found in 2019 (the latest survey) that between 50 to 60% of workers reported at least one incident of verbal abuse in the last 12 months and 30-35% reported at least one incident of threat of physical violence in the last year.
In the first months of the COVID-19 crisis USDAW carried out a survey of members on their experiences. They found that incidents of verbal abuse against retail staff had doubled. The COVID-19- secure social distancing measures put in place to protect the shopping public, had become flashpoints for abuse directed against retail workers.
Earlier in the year this prompted a Parliamentary petition which has achieved over 80,000 signatures as of the time of writing this article calling on the government to pass laws protecting key workers in retail from harassment.
For those workers in the region who work at a growing number of Amazon warehouses Black Friday can see them put at serious risk due to increased pick rates and a demand to work longer hours.
A report by the GMB union in 2018 found that over a three-year period Amazon warehouses saw over 300 ambulance call outs due to accidents. To date Amazon has refused to work with trade unions and has an international reputation for subpar standards on health and safety.
These two issues have presented workers with a toxic environment to work in. Last Friday was ground zero for many of these issues ultimately it is long overdue that government take action to boost safety standards and end harassment at work.
This has been persistent ask of trade unions and I would like to take the opportunity to repeat the call for a new, easily enforceable legal duty requiring employers to take all reasonable steps to protect workers from harassment in all forms and victimisation.
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