Reader’s letter: shop workers don’t feel safe – we need to do more

Reader’s letter: shop workers don’t feel safe – we need to do more

By Cllr Beccy Greenhalgh.

Last week I gave my maiden speech at a Southampton City Council meeting as a Labour Party councillor for Coxford.

I gave it in support of a motion by Cllr Noon which was passed, which said: “Southampton city Council stands with unions and employers in calling on Hampshire Police and Crime commissioner Donna Jones to act on improving retail workers’ protection in Southampton, by prioritising the response to and investigate all retail crime. This Council requests that the Cabinet Member writes to the Police and Crime Commissioner and invites her as a matter of urgency to meet local unions and business representatives to discuss a plan of action on retail crime.”

This is some of what I said in the chamber:

 “Retail workers are key workers. During the pandemic they kept the nation fed and in supply of essentials such as hand soap and toilet rolls. However, since then we have seen a significant rise in shoplifting, accompanied by abuse, threats and violence, especially in the convenience sector.

Some statistics: the organisation Retailers against Crime reported a 60% rise in shoplifting. USDAW the shopworkers’ union found 9 in 10 members surveyed had been verbally abused, 64% threatened and 12% physically assaulted. The British Retail Consortium found violence and abuse against shopworkers almost doubled pre pandemic levels to over 850 a day, and Co-Op report that the police as a national average do not respond to 71% of serious retail crime.

During August, I spent 100 hours talking to shopworkers in convenience stores across Southampton. Overwhelmingly they were talking about threats and violence and how shoplifters were making their lives a misery. Managers were distressed by the detrimental impact on the mental health of their staff. Nobody is bothered by the value of the thefts themselves, the concerns are around the accompanying threats and violence to those essential workers and a dreadful frustration that the police often do not respond to emergency calls, or record the crimes reported. 

Exasperated staff repeatedly said to me “nobody listens”. Well I hear them loud and clear and something needs to be done. This is unacceptable. Nobody should feel fear and anxiety in the workplace. 

Unfortunately shopworkers are so frustrated that some now don’t call the police as help often isn’t forthcoming, meaning workers feel they are unworthy of police help.

This problem is escalating because now offenders know the police often don’t attend. The offending won’t cease and these people will progress their level of violence and their type of crime – til shoplifting really will seem trivial at a later stage.

In the meantime let me remind you that Richard Walker, the chief executive of Iceland has revealed 3 employees are now HIV positive as a result of needle attacks.

The confrontations may last only minutes , but for those on the receiving end the impact is long lasting emotionally, mentally and physically.”

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