Written evidence submitted by Tesco (VTR0033)
- As the UK’s largest retailer, employing 300,000 colleagues across 3,700 stores, Tesco is acutely aware that abuse and violent crime committed against our colleagues is a major problem that is getting worse. We welcome the Committee’s Call for Evidence at this critical time for retail; this issue must be addressed and now is the right time for the Government to take action.
- Like many retail workers, Tesco colleagues are increasingly suffering threats, abuse and violence while they are going about their normal working routines. This has been an increasing problem in recent years, however, over the last 12 months and, in part due to the in-store restrictions that are in place to help tackle Covid, this has rapidly escalated by over 30%. We have included a number of examples of this throughout our evidence.
- We are supportive of the Government’s response to their Call for Evidence, however now this response needs to be met with decisive action. We are playing our part and investing heavily in preventative and reactive measures, and we fully support calls for the creation of a new aggravated offence for assaulting shopworkers.
- Our colleagues work extremely hard serving their communities and helping their customers. The importance of this work has been highlighted in the past year, as colleagues have striven to ensure the nation has access to food and necessities throughout the pandemic. Unfortunately, they have also been met with an increased risk of verbal and physical abuse in the last 12 months. This is particularly the case when playing their vital role in upholding the law by enforcing face covering guidance, social distancing guidelines, age restrictions, refusing to serve intoxicated customers, or dealing with thieves.
- According to USDAW, on average shopworkers are verbally abused, threatened or assaulted more than 21 times a year, which is nearly once a fortnight. From a Tesco perspective, there has been a 30% increase in physical assaults on our colleagues year on year, which means over 400 additional incidents since 2019/20. We have also seen a rise in specific types of incident, including an alarming rise in the number of our colleagues who have been spat at while at work.
Example 1. Excerpt from incident log, September 2020:
- ‘…A store colleague witnessed a shoplifter concealing a bottle of wine, approached him and retrieved the stock. The male spat at the colleague and dropped two bottles on the floor. He then picked two more bottles of wine, threatened the colleague with one and proceeded towards the exit. Two other colleagues who approached the offender near the exit were also threatened with the bottle and he left the site with the stolen stock. The colleagues were left shaken by the incident…’
- We are investing heavily in our colleague’s safety, in crime reduction measures and in our own capability so that we can respond effectively to incidents when they happen. This includes an important focus on prevention, and we have made a number of changes in recent years following an in-depth study of potential measures as part of our ‘safer stores’ project. We have trialled and rolled out further physical deterrence measures such as body worn cameras into small stores and headsets for our colleagues to keep in contact, we’ve improved door Access Systems to minimise risk for colleagues, etc, as well as more traditional means such as improved CCTV coverage, strong internal policies on how to deal with difficult situations, supportive external signage, alarm upgrades and deploying guards in store.
- The horrific trend in offenders spitting at our colleagues has meant we have had to invest in DNA ‘spit kits’, equipment which is unfortunately now a necessity to help our colleagues provide the evidence to police to help identify offenders.
Example 2. Excerpt from incident log, June 2020:
- ‘…Security officer approached a known female shoplifter who was aggressive towards colleagues. The female became aggressive, threatened the officer and spat at him. The offender was detained until Police arrived and arrested her…’
Example 3. Excerpt from incident log, January 2021:
- ‘…Security officer noticed a known offender and his accomplice entering the store and stopped them at the entrance for not following the facial covering guidelines. However, they pushed the officer and entered inside. When the officer and a colleague requested them to leave the store, they became aggressive and a scuffle broke out. The offenders punched them and the accomplice fled the scene. Colleagues informed Police, who attended the site and arrested the known offender. Colleague sustained swelling to his head and visited the hospital for medical aid. Officer sustained minor grazes to his knees and elbows, and a cut to his finger...’
Response to incidents
- As a large retailer with stores in every part of the UK, we have a clear view of the way these incidents are dealt with by police forces in many different areas. While our central teams have a constructive relationship with the police and regularly share intelligence and evidence, in local areas our engagement with, and the responsiveness of the police, is not consistently positive. This means on some occasions our colleagues have felt that their concerns and calls for support have not been answered in good time, or that incidents are not followed up, or progressed through the legal system effectively. This can lead to a lack of a clear consequences or deterrence and so unfortunately, many offenders will go on to repeat their behaviour,
- We also know that without the right support, there is a risk that these events can leave a lasting impact on our colleagues. We have introduced a number of measures, including trauma training, and colleague and manager trauma guides to ensure that we are able to support colleagues effectively should an incident happen. These documents provide guidance for managers on supporting colleagues immediately after and in the coming weeks and months after the incident. For the colleagues concerned, we have tips on self-care and awareness resources to help highlight signs and symptoms they may be struggling or in need some additional support. We then provide emotional wellbeing support through occupational health referral and assessment, which includes face to face counselling, or on-site support from a trained counsellor for groups of colleagues. However, the best way to address this to prevent the incident in the first place.
Example 4. Excerpt from incident log, June 2020:
- ‘…Security officer approached four teenage boys who were not adhering to the social distancing policy. One of the males gained access inside the store forcefully and became aggressive when asked to leave by the store colleague. He then kicked the colleague on his lower limb and fled from the scene along with the others. The offenders returned on their bikes, sprayed water inside the store, and left…’
- We welcomed the Government’s recent response to the Call for Evidence, however the supportive words from the Home Secretary now need to be met with decisive action. Retailers are investing in equipment, training and preventative measures. We now need support from the Government, the Police and Police and Crime Commissioners to ensure our efforts and action are matched through their response.
- We support USDAW’s calls for a new, aggravated offence for those who assault shopworkers, and have been supportive of Alex Norris MP’s Private Members Bill to this effect. We would also support increased penalties and sentences for offenders attacking shopworkers and a review of the sentencing guidelines for assault in the interim, to provide an effective deterrent from these sorts of incidents from being repeated.