Store staff may suffer abuse if UK drops mask rule, trade union says

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – A retail trade union warned UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that making face masks a personal choice in shops could stoke abuse and even violence against store employees.

Mr Johnson confirmed this week that face masks will no longer be legally required in England from July 19. Usdaw, the shopworkers’ trade union, backs the World Health Organisation’s guidance that masks should remain mandatory in shops.

“Covid-19 measures have become trigger points over the last 12 months,” Usdaw spokesman David Williams said by phone.

“Customers argue with each other over wearing face coverings, which is a concern because staff have to get involved. Any confusion will only make this problem worse.”

Enforcing the rules should not be the responsibility of staff, Mr Williams said.

The past year has seen rising aggression directed at workers as shoppers were forced to follow Covid-19 rules.

The British Retail Consortium’s most recent crime survey showed a 7 per cent annual rise in incidents of violence and abuse against shopworkers, totalling an average of 455 cases per day.

J Sainsbury, Co-Operative Group and Asda said that they would wait until further government guidance is published on Monday (July 12) before making a decision on mask policy.

“Anything can trigger shop-worker abuse, which highlights the need for consistency,” Co-Op Food spokesman Craig Noonan said.

A hundred of the UK’s biggest retailers called on the government last week to take action to combat the “shocking upsurge in violence and abuse” against retail workers.

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