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Freedom From Fear Campaign

by msecadm4921

The shopworkers union Usdaw has secured cross-party backing for their Freedom From Fear campaign from Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLAs).

After a presentation from Usdaw, the Assembly’s Employment and Learning Committee unanimously agreed to adopt the Union’s campaign against violence, threats and abuse of shopworkers and to promote it both within the Assembly and across Northern Ireland.

Figures recently released from Usdaw’s annual Freedom From Fear survey revealed that in the last 12 months six per cent of shopworkers were subjected to violent attack, 37pc were threatened with harm and 70pc had suffered verbal abuse.

Usdaw reports that SDLP Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey has long championed the union’s campaign and was instrumental in securing the opportunity for Usdaw to meet the Employment and Learning Committee.

John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary said: "This is great news and I’d like to thank Pat Ramsey and all MLAs on the Committee for the support they have given to our members today."

"Usdaw will continue to work closely with MLAs and other agencies in Northern Ireland to build upon the progress made today and to try and stamp out a blight that sadly affects the lives of far too many of our members. Shopworkers should never have to fear going to work nor face violence, threats or abuse for simply doing their job when they are there."

Michala Lafferty, Usdaw’s Belfast Area Organiser said: "We are very grateful to Pat Ramsey for the work he has done to promote Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear Campaign in Northern Ireland. The fear of violence, threats and abuse is a key issue for our members and we are delighted to have secured the support of the Employment and Education Committee. They have chosen to adopt our campaign and become champions of the cause within the Northern Ireland Assembly."

"This cross-party consensus and support for our members will make a real difference. We are seeking a change in culture that makes assaulting, threatening or verbally abusing shopworkers totally unacceptable. We want to bring together employers, police, local authorities and shopworkers to act together and tackle such incidents in our workplaces. The assistance of the Committee will help make that happen."

"Incidents are all too common and there is a real personal cost. Our surveys have shown that in Northern Ireland two thirds of reps know of someone who is taking sickness absence because of an incident and a third knows of someone who has actually left their job because of violence, threats and abuse from customers."

"Today marks real progress for our campaign in Northern Ireland."

Danielle McCusker, an Usdaw rep who works in retail said: "As a shopworker, me and my colleagues are very much on the frontline. Whilst most customers are friendly and polite, sometimes we are dealing with people who get angry and frustrated and all we want to do is help. The problem can be worse in the run up to Christmas, people are getting stressed and we are just asking the public to keep their cool because it’s so much easier to help in a respectful atmosphere."

"Verbal abuse is all too common, but we all live in fear of the terrifying incidents. We can face aggressive shoplifters, armed robberies and even sectarian threats and violence because shops are often seen as easy targets."

"But of real daily concern is the sale of age-restricted products. Shopworkers have to police these laws and it can often lead to incidents of abuse, threats or even violence. We face customers who are frustrated because they have to prove their age even though they are well over 18 and of course the customers under 18 who are refused a sale and then get abusive. In many ways you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. "

"We want shoppers to have a better understanding that we have to ask for age identification if you look under 25 and we have to refuse a sale if you are either under 18 or are unable to produce ID to prove otherwise. If we don’t, we can be fined, prosecuted or even lose our jobs. That’s the kind of pressure we are under."

And meanwhile the trade body ACS (the Association of Convenience Stores) is supporting the campaign. Usdaw reports that incidents of verbal abuse increase dramatically over the festive period and has asked customers to keep their cool and respect shopworkers through a variety of campaign materials.

ACS Chief Executive James Lowman said: “Violence against shopworkers is unacceptable and the Usdaw Freedom from Fear campaign is an excellent way to raise awareness of this problem.”

For further information on Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear campaign and Respect for Shopworkers week visit:

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