Incidents of verbal abuse and violent offences against convenience store workers, including threats to cough and spit on staff, have soared in Central England Co-op stores in the past four weeks.

Central England Co-op staff serving customer

The Central England Co-op, which has over 260 food stores and petrol stations across 16 counties, has seen incidents of verbal abuse jump from 11 per week to 24, in the past four weeks, which, in some cases, is over four times higher than the same period during 2019.

Slamming the “totally unacceptable” rise in staff abuse during the current lockdown situation, Central England Co-op 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 front line heroes care, compassion and respect.

“However, as the figures released today show, we have a minority who ignore these pleas and treat our hard-working 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.”

The society would continue to “work closely with local police forces” to showcase a “zero tolerance approach” towards any violent or threatening behaviour towards its colleagues, Robinson added.

“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,” she added.

Incidents of violence and abuse 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.

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.