Future of Work

People are being asked to be respectful to shop workers as thousands of non-essential retail stores prepare to reopen across England and Wales. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is calling on shoppers to adhere to social-distancing rules and “queue considerately” as curbs ease on Monday.

The Co-op reported a rise in abuse and assaults involving staff during Covid. Home Secretary Priti Patel said last year she “will not tolerate” abuse against shop workers.

The latest step in the government’s roadmap in England sees non-essential retail such as clothes and technology shops reopen on Monday alongside hairdressers, beauty salons and gyms.

In Wales, all shops will reopen as every pupil returns to the classroom.

The BRC, which represents big chain stores, said the public “have a key part to play in creating a safe and enjoyable retail environment”. It estimates the three national lockdowns in England since March 2020 have cost non-food stores about £30bn in lost sales – but an initial sales surge is expected as restrictions ease.

Chief executive Helen Dickinson said it was vital retailers “are able to make their contribution to the UK’s economic recovery”. She said: “Many of us will be looking forward to returning to our favourite shop in the coming weeks, and we all have a duty to keep each other safe. Everyone should be considerate and respectful to their fellow shoppers and hard-working shop staff.

“This way we can all enjoy shopping and support our local communities.”

Among its pleas to the public, the BRC asked people to “shop alone where possible”, “follow instructions”, and observe hygiene measures.

The Co-op said last year that violence, abuse and anti-social behaviour had become “normalised” and was at “unprecedented levels” during the pandemic. Co-op food boss Jo Whitfield said face-covering requirements and social-distancing rules had led to shop workers being “spat at and threatened”.

“The reality is that shop workers are facing levels of violence for just doing their job: they have been spat at and threatened just because they’ve asked customers to respect social distancing,” she wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

Speaking on the launch of a consultation over new legislation to protect shop staff, Ms Patel said last July: “I will not tolerate violence and abuse against any shopworker and it’s right that those who commit these crimes must be caught and punished.”

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