Co-op reveals rise in violent virus-related offences against staff

Central England Co-op has described a rise in violent offences including people threatening to cough and spit on colleagues working around the clock to support their communities as ‘totally unacceptable’.

The retailer, which has over 260 food stores and petrol stations across 16 counties, has been forced to reiterate a plea for its teams to be treated with ‘care, compassion and respect’ after it recorded a rising trend of verbal abuse and threats across the period that the nation has been in lockdown and faced social distancing measures when out shopping for food and vital essentials.

Figures for the past four weeks have seen incidents of verbal abuse jump from 11 per week to 24, which, in some cases, is over four times higher than the same period during 2019.

Incidents have taken place in the following areas: West Midlands, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

Chief Executive Debbie Robinson said, “Throughout these uncertain times our colleagues have been and continue to do everything they can to ensure our community stores have enough food and essential items for everyone.

“On the whole, our Members and customers have been supportive and showed our frontline heroes care, compassion and respect.

“However, as the figures released today show, we have a minority who ignore these pleas and treat our hardworking teams in a totally unacceptable manner.

“Today we again ask for people to be kind and respectful to those working in our stores and to understand the changes we have had to put in place are to keep our colleagues and our communities safe and healthy.

“For anyone who does not support us, we will continue to work closely with local police forces to showcase that we have a zero tolerance approach to any violent or threatening behaviour towards our colleagues.'

Robinson concluded, “I am a strong campaigner for shop workers to be treated as public servants in the eyes of the law, in cases where they suffer violence or risk from the public. I would hope their status in society will now be permanently elevated and I am redoubling my efforts in lobbying for a change in sentencing law to ensure those who choose to attack our colleagues are held accountable for their actions on the same level as other frontline workers.”

The retailer has already rolled out a range of other measures in stores aimed at keeping customers and colleagues safe including social distancing, gloves and hand sanitiser, over 1,000 checkout screens, 7,000 face visors for colleagues and over 150 security guards to help with queues.

Central England Co-op is also continuing a range of measures to help those whose lives have been affected by the coronavirus.

Other measures put in place to support include:
• Recruiting over 1,000 extra colleagues to help in stores, including support from across its other businesses in travel, floral and head office.
• Implementing the new £45 contactless limit.
• Launching a 10% discount and priority access for NHS staff and rewarding staff for their hard work.
• Working with councils in Lichfield, Stafford, Derby and Burton to launch pioneering schemes aimed at getting food to the most vulnerable.
• Donating over 60,000 items to food bank partners as a result of an ongoing urgent food bank appeal.
• Supporting long-term partners Dementia UK and FareShare Midlands with significant donations to ensure the vital work they do in the community can continue.