ALMOST two-thirds of shopworkers have experienced verbal abuse from customers – prompting an MP to call for more protection for public-facing employees.

Wentworth and Dearne MP, John Healey, says shopworkers across the borough are having to deal with unacceptable levels of violence and abuse.

It comes after the shopworkers’ union, Usdaw, revealed 65 per cent of its Barnsley members working in retail are suffering abuse from customers.

Forty-two per cent have received threats, 60 per cent of incidents were triggered by shoplifting and five per cent were subjected to an assault.

John said: “The latest figures from Usdaw are truly shocking with shopworkers across our area facing unacceptable levels of violence and abuse.

“Shopworkers have reported that they’ve been spat at, threatened with knives and faced verbal abuse.

“The busy Christmas period is approaching and it’s important that we respect our shopworkers who provide an important service – abuse should not be part of the job.

“Labour would reverse the Conservative government’s decision to downgrade the response to shoplifting under £200, to make it easier to take action against repeat offenders and return to proper neighbourhood policing.”

The annual Respect for Shopworkers Week – which ended last week – saw Usdaw members raise awareness of the union’s year-round ‘Freedom from Fear’ campaign.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary, added: “It is shocking that two-thirds are suffering abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence.

“Six in ten of these incidents were triggered by theft from shops, which is clearly the result of a 25 per cent increase in police-recorded shoplifting.

“Our survey demonstrates that shoplifting is not a victimless crime – theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers.

“Having to deal with repeated and persistent shoplifters can cause issues beyond the theft itself like anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers.

“Our members are reporting that they are often faced with hardened career criminals in their stores and much of the abuse they suffer is from those who are stealing to sell goods on, often to fund an addiction.

“Regrettably the government is not delivering the change we need on retail crime.

“Issuing fixed penalty notices for shop thefts under £200 has led to fewer crimes being investigated and prosecuted.

“Usdaw activists will be campaigning, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, when the number of incidents increases as shops get busy and customers become frustrated.

“This is a hugely important issue for our members and they are saying loud and clear that enough is enough.”