The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) has urged Northern Ireland’s politicians to enact legal protections for shopworkers.  

In a letter to Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly, the trade union calls for action to support retail workers amid a steep rise in cases in recent years. 

Usdaw’s annual survey, involving more than 5,500 retail staff, revealed that 18% experienced violent attacks last year, a significant rise from 8% in 2022.  

The survey also highlighted that 70% faced verbal abuse, 46% were threatened, and 18% were assaulted, indicating an epidemic of retail crime. 

This appeal aligns with the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium’s request to Justice Minister Naomi Long for legal measures against assaults on retail staff, similar to those in other UK regions. 

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “The case for a separate criminal offence for abusing or assaulting a retail worker has been made against the backdrop of a huge increase in the number of incidents in recent years.  

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“Our annual Freedom From Fear survey results of thousands of our members across the UK, including in Northern Ireland, shows that the level of abuse and violence remain significantly above pre-pandemic levels. Physical assaults are at an all-time high. The situation is in danger of becoming normalised in shops.” 

In Scotland, the Protection of Workers Act criminalised the abuse, threat, or assault of retail workers.  

In addition, the UK government also recently announced plans to introduce a similar offence.  

However, without action from the Northern Ireland Assembly, retail workers in Northern Ireland remain vulnerable. 

Lillis added: “A separate criminal offence will ensure greater visibility and awareness of the scale of the problem, prioritisation and resources from the police, certainty from courts and will send a clear message to members of the public that abuse and attacks against retail workers are wholly unacceptable.  

“It will also allow the tracking of the data around cases as they progress through the criminal justice system.”