Norfolk shop workers demand protection from violence and abuse

It is mostly verbal abuse but occasionally gets physical - and shop workers want the same protection as the police and healthcare workers.

A campaign to get a Protection of Workers Bill through Parliament was highlighted by members of Usdaw (the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) at the Tesco superstore in Dereham yesterday.

Shop steward Ben Baldwin, who also works in the bakery department at the store, said in the run-up to Christmas there were more abusive incidents in store as shoppers' stress levels rose.

'We want people to recognise we are human beings too,' he said. 'People start getting angry because things are not on the shelf that they want or having to queue and staff are busier than ever.

'We are lucky in this store that 98 percent of customers are fantastic but there is about two percent who get abusive, shouting and swearing and making threats. If they were to assault a member of the police or health service it is treated as a very serious crime and they could be jailed and we want the same legal protection.'

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Mr Baldwin's wife Bridget also works in the store and said incidents were often alcohol-fuelled. 'Some get very angry if you ask for identification but we need to protect ourselves too.'

They said one member of staff was hit last year by a man who came into the store, picked up a rolling pin and hit him on the back of the head.

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'When you are open 24 hours it does mean you get people in here who have had too much to drink at night,' said Mr Baldwin. 'I even had a customer swear at me because the bread slicer was not working and he complained to customer services. If someone complains about you it can lead to you being suspended but luckily my manager was on my side.'

He said the response to the Freedom from Fear campaign in store had been 'great'.

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