Freedom from Fear

Sarah with Lawrence Wason, Scottish Divisional Officer, Usdaw (Photo: Cate Gillon)This month I met with members from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) at an event in Parliament to promote the union’s annual Freedom from Fear campaign.

The campaign seeks to bring together employers, police and politicians for action to tackle violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers.  It also sends a clear message to staff that taking abuse is not part of their job description and encourages them to speak up and report incidents.

Usdaw is calling for a change in the law to introduce a specific offence of assaulting a worker serving the public. I backed a bill to deliver this change promoted by my colleague Hugh Henry in 2011 and was disappointed that the Scottish Government rejected the proposal.

Usdaw’s annual survey of shopworkers experiences indicates that more than half have been victims of verbal abuse, almost a third have been threatened and 4% have been violently assaulted.  Nobody should have to suffer concerns for their safety just by going about their work.

I’ve discussed these issues with local Usdaw members who have raised particular concerns in relation to small businesses.  In circumstances where there are only a small number of staff serving the public there is a greater sense of feeling vulnerable if there is an incident.

There are also concerns where shopworkers are expected to enforce the law, for example in relation to age-restricted products, that this leaves them vulnerable to abuse.

The campaign is timed to coincide with the build up to Christmas – a time of year where shops are full and frustrations can emerge.  The message of the campaign is for customers to keep their cool and respect the job shopworkers do and I wholeheartedly support this effort.