Sheffield checkout worker 'had full basket of shopping thrown at her' for asking customer to respect social distancing

Shop workers in Yorkshire have been subjected to “horrifying” levels of abuse during the pandemic - with one Sheffield checkout operator reporting having a full basket of shopping thrown at her for asking a customer to respect social distancing rules.

A checkout operator asking a customer to respect social distancing in Sheffield reportedly had a basket of shopping thrown at her.

Details have been revealed following a public consultation carried out by Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake, who is introducing a Ten-Minute Rule Bill in Parliament tomorrow which calls for the verbal or physical abuse of any frontline worker to be made into a criminal offence.

Ms Blake conducted a survey of frontline workers in Sheffield after an attack on an Asda worker by customers in London in the summer and national studies which showed almost nine in 10 retail workers had been verbally abused last year, with nine per cent being physically assaulted.

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One Sheffield checkout operator said: “I have been sworn at and also had someone throw their full basket of shopping at me just for asking them to step back and respect the social distancing of others.”

Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake want a new law to protect shop staff.

Another shop worker reported near daily abuse in response to having to enforce Covid rules, including shouting, swearing and spitting, with the most recent incident involving threats to “smash their face in”.

Both reported receiving no help following the incidents.

A hotel receptionist said: “[Abuse] happens often. I tell them no rooms and get called a b****, a liar. I tell guests no more drink, I get sworn at, shouted at, called names. I’ve had things thrown at me, one guy said he was going to cut my head off.”

Another said there had been: “too many [incidents] to name over the past 18 months”

Now Ms Blake is bringing a motion to Parliament, backed by the Institute of Customer Service, the Cooperative Party, and trade unions, to make verbal or physical abuse of all frontline workers a criminal offence.

The motion builds on the 2018 ‘Protect the Protectors’ Act, which made the assault of an emergency worker while they carry out their duties a specific criminal act. Whilst this law is widely believed to have had a positive effect, there is concern that it has been inconsistently applied and fails to protect the majority of frontline workers in customer-facing roles.

A new, broader offence relating to all public-facing, frontline workers, Ms Blake hopes would encourage law enforcement to proactively investigate and support complaints against perpetrators. She also hopes it would mean frontline workers feel empowered to speak up and report incidents of abuse, knowing they will be listened to and have their cases investigated.

Ms Blake said: "I have been horrified by the stories people have shared with me over the past year. I have heard from shop assistants, bus drivers, NHS staff, receptionists and care workers, who have been sworn at, spat at, pushed, had trolleys rammed into them or full baskets of shopping thrown at them - all whilst trying to do their job.

“The Government has been quick to clap these workers for keeping our country going during the pandemic, but nothing has actually been done to support our front-line staff who have had to soldier on, often in covid-insecure and underpaid work. It is long past time the Government put their money where their mouth is, so we can end the abuse and ensure everyone has the safety and the dignity they’re entitled to at work.”

Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service, said: “We wholeheartedly support Olivia Blake MP’s Ten-Minute Rule Motion to make abuse of a frontline worker a criminal offence. The evidence we have received through the All Party Parliamentary Group on Customer Service and the supporters of our Service with Respect campaign – along with the research we have been conducting over the past 18 months – has highlighted the severity and prevalence of this issue across all sectors. A clear message needs to be sent to people who think it is acceptable to abuse customer-facing workers, as it is evident current legislation doesn’t provide a strong enough deterrent.”

Sheffield Heeley MP, Louise Haigh, who is supporting the Bill said: “The rising levels of abuse public-facing workers have faced is disgraceful. It’s right that we draw attention to it after they served us so brilliantly during the pandemic. That’s why I’m supporting the motion to make this abuse its own criminal offence.”

Before the outbreak, the Crime Report 2020 said that 83 per cent of people in the convenience store sector have been subjected to verbal abuse over the previous year and there were more than 50,000 incidents of violence estimated, with 25 percent of incidents resulting in injury.