RETAIL staff across the region have faced violence, threats and abuse at work – including shoppers coughing at them during the Covid pandemic.

Shopworkers told the retail trade union Usdaw they have suffered verbal abuse, seen items thrown and trolleys rammed into staff and even been spat at for asking customers to abide by Covid-19 health and safety measures.

Danny Hook, who has worked in a supermarket in Byker for 18 years, said: "Most customers are perfectly polite but there has definitely been a change during Covid.

"Some people don't like change and take that out on us. We have introduced measures to keep people safe but some people won't accept it and are rude or abusive if we politely ask them to queue, wear a mask or keep their distance.

"One girl was showing a customer where a product was when he started a debate about Covid, saying he didn't believe in it and started coughing at her on purpose.

"She said she was no longer serving him but didn't speak up until he'd gone, so he got away with it.

"It isn't on, we are working very hard to feed the nation. If we cannot do our jobs we cannot serve them or deliver to their families who may be self isolating."

Other retail workers said asking customers for ID or challenging potential shoplifters often put them in the firing line.

A worker in Tees Valley said: “Abuse is usually verbal, name calling, rudeness, dismissive to what being told, occasionally physical, throwing of items, pushing, ramming trolley into staff trying to get past. No punches thrown as of yet.”

A County Durham shopworker said: “Some customers have been lovely and other customers shout abuse at you because they had to queue outside for ages, saying we’re not doing enough.”

Another said: “I tried to stop a shoplifter and was punched in the mouth.”

Shopworkers in Tyne and Wear described being punched by a drunk customer, physically threatened and spat at.

The incidents were reported through Usdaw's Freedom from Fear survey of more than 2,000 retail staff, 76 per cent of whom said abuse has been worse than normal during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most shopworkers said they have experienced verbal abuse, more than half were threatened by a customer and 9 per cent were assaulted.

Usdaw released the findings as it launched Respect for Shopworkers Week to raise public awareness of violence, threats and abuse against retail staff.

It is also promoting a parliamentary petition calling on the Government to legislate to protect shopworkers, which currently has more than 70,000 signatures.

Paddy Lillis , Usdaw General Secretary, said: “It is heart-breaking to hear these testimonies from North East shopworkers who deserve far more respect than they receive.

"Abuse should never be a part of the job and we are appalled that three-quarters of retail staff say abuse has been worse during this appalling national pandemic.

"At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a disgrace that staff working to keep food on the shelves and the shop safe for customers are being abused.

“Action to protect shop workers is needed and that is why we have launched a petition, which now has nearly 70,000 signatures.

"We were deeply disappointed by the Government’s response to the petition, offering little more than sympathy, so we continue to campaign for the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a parliamentary debate.

“This is a hugely important issue for our members and their local communities.

"Shopworkers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be just a part of the job.

"Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”

The petition can be signed online at