VERBAL abuse, threats of physical violence and being deliberately coughed on by members of the public.

Those are just a few of the things that shopworkers have been subject to as they go about their daily jobs amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

In recent days, the Advertiser has been contacted by various employees from a number of high street retailers who have spoken of the ‘shocking’ scenes they’ve witnessed at work.

One member of staff at an Andover supermarket, whose identity we have kept anonymous, recalls a number of incidents in which he and his colleagues have been subject to all kinds of abuse.

He said: “One lady, she had her trolley full of things, including baked beans – she had about six or seven tins – and you’re only allowed to buy three. She went to the basket line, but we stopped her and said you have to go to the main line and you can’t buy this many.

“She kicked off and picked up two tins of baked beans and chucked them at us. They didn’t hit us, but they did break, so that means someone else couldn’t but them.”

Referencing another incident, he added: “On Saturday a guy came in, and he was already quite angry, and he came up to us and he was coughing. We stepped back and we’ve got security managers, and I am security trained, but at the same time you don’t really want to go near him.”

And on other occasions he has even been faced with the threat of physical violence when a shopper found there was no more bread left.

“He got in my face because we had no bread,” said the shopworker.

“He was swearing, shouting at me and then was threatening to fight me over a loaf of bread. I just walked away at that point. It gets to a point when someone has been that abusive and you just need to walk away.”

The employee also recalls difficulties faced during the shop’s early morning opening hours.

He added: “When we’re doing our opening in the morning, for older shoppers and key workers, people have been trying to come in that shouldn’t.

“And when we try to stop them, they call us literally every swear word you can think of. Screaming and shouting at us. The mornings are quite bad.”

This isn’t the only instance of such behaviour. The abuse isn’t reserved to one single store – nor is it an exclusive thing in Andover.

Research by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers found that in 2019, 62 per cent of retail workers had been the victim of verbal or physical abuse, and 80 per cent believed that abuse and violence has increased in recent years.

Meanwhile, other employees from the town and the surrounding area have shared similar stories of abuse faced while on the job.

One member of staff who works at a Basingstoke retailer described the situation as ‘out of control’.

He said: “It’s just crazy, all the shops are empty and yet us shop workers are facing abuse as we’re low on stock.

“It’s stressful, we’re seeing more customers, and a couple of people who work here have been racially abused because of their skin colour. And we are getting breaks, but they’re limited to 15 minutes.”

Despite the difficulties faced, the Andover supermarket worker maintains a degree of optimism.

He says the situation appears to have got better in recent days, as the government issues ever-stricter guidance over the situation. But last weekend was ‘hell’.

“On Friday and Saturday, I’d had enough,” he said. “I was ready to quit to be honest. I’d had enough. It’s got slightly better now, but the weekend was hell.”

As well as the government taking a tougher stance, he says his employer has been proactive in supporting its staff. Security has been ramped up, and free food is now offered for those on shift.

Previously staff had been left searching the shelves for food at the end of their shifts – which at the moment can be as long as 11 hours – only to find there was no food left for them.

The police have also helped where possible, whether it be through regular visits or keeping the peace when shelves are replenished with sought-after stock.

Again, though, it hasn’t been without trouble.

The shopworker said: “The police have been coming in. I think they’ve been in every day, just checking in on us. I think it was last Thursday night, we put the toilet rolls out and we had to block off the aisle at that point. The police came in and helped us do it.

“A guy was trying to stand with us while we put it out and we asked him to move, and the police asked him to move, and he picked up his basket and launched it at the shelves in anger and walked out.

“It’s quite scary what it does to people. It’s not pleasant.”

Although the government has brought in further measures insisting people stay at home where possible, supermarkets selling essential goods will of course remain open for business.

But as many political figures, locally and nationally, have already said, staff are hoping that those who use such supermarkets will remember we are all in this situation together.

“Everyone is going through the same thing at the moment,” the Andover shopworker added.

“And we are all equals. And at the end of the day shop staff are there doing their absolute best, while putting themselves at risk of getting the virus – and getting hurt, because people are getting abusive at the moment – just so shoppers can get their food.”

  • Have you been verbally or physically abused while on the job in recent weeks? Get in touch in confidence via or on 07702 810431.