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Shop workers facing 'worrying' rise in verbal abuse from customers this Christmas

Mandate is calling for greater respect for retail workers on the frontline.

Image: Sam Boal

RETAIL WORKERS HAVE reported an increase in the level of verbal abuse they’re receiving from shoppers in the busy period before Christmas, according to trade union Mandate.

After receiving “worrying reports” of an increase in the number of altercations with customers in recent weeks, the union — which represents around 30,000 shop workers in Ireland — is calling for greater respect for frontline workers at this time of high stress.

Mandate is also reminding employers to play their role in protecting shop workers this Christmas by ensuring that Covid guidelines are followed.

Central Statistics Office data, published in October, revealed that retail assistants, cashiers and checkout operators were the cohort of workers most likely to catch the virus during the second and third waves of the pandemic.

This was a significant shift from the early stages of the pandemic, when healthcare staff and social workers were most likely to catch the virus, making up 60% of cases among workers in April 2020.

The figures showed that in the first wave of Covid-19, as the country locked down, 6% of the total cases in workers were in nurses and midwives. That level, the data indicates, fell to 4% in the next two waves of the virus between August and November 2020 and November 2020 and May 2021.

But retail staff and checkout operators made up 6% of cases among all employees in the same time period, making them the hardest hit individual group of employees in the country.

In a statement, Mandate General Secretary Gerry Light there’s “no doubt” that they have been “impacted heavily by the current wave” of Covid-19.

“The least they deserve is a bit of patience and respect,” he said.

He added, “We have seen videos of customers verbally abusing workers in recent days. Employers must do all they can to support their staff when this happens.”

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While Christmas is always a stressful time for shop workers, Light said the recent spike in case numbers is exacerbating the challenges they face in the workplace.

“We are asking customers to have heightened levels of awareness of the difficulties facing shop workers”, he said. “Abuse is not part of the job and it costs nothing to show respect and support to the workers who have kept our shelves full throughout the pandemic.”

Employers also have a role to play at this busy time, he said.

Light added, “Employers need to ensure that Covid guidelines are adhered to in order to protect the health of their staff and the public principally by ensuring that shop workers are not put in the firing line by requesting customers to wear masks or to social distance.

“It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure there is adequate hand sanitiser and that there are no overcrowding issues.”

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