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UK shopworkers feel unsafe as they travel to work


Jackie Gregory
WVoN co-editor 

Hundreds of female shopworkers feel unsafe as they travel to and from work in Britain.

Dark car parks, poorly lit streets and staff having to come and go on late evening or early morning shifts are some of the concerns highlighted in a survey by Usdaw, the shopworkers’ union, which found that one in seven members had safety fears.

With the majority of shopworkers being women, and many working part-time anti-social hours to fit work around family life, the issues of transport and car parking are becoming more acute.

John Hannatt, general secretary of Usdaw, said:

“As the relentless drive to a 24/7 society continues unabated, this issue is going to have to be addressed more seriously by employers, policymakers and politicians, particularly as evidence is beginning to emerge that the impact of government spending cuts is actually making the situation worse.”

A report commissioned by the Labour Party also found that women’s safety is being compromised by cuts to street lighting and public transport.

In the foreword to its first interim report Everywoman Safe Everywhere, Yvette Cooper, shadow Home Secretary, wrote:

“Half a million street lights are being switched off with no assessment of the impact on women’s safety or fear of crime.

“Overall, it is clear that government policy is now undermining action to keep women safe.

“Whilst Labour has always said that services across the board need to reform and make savings, we’ve also made clear the Government is cutting too far too fast, and there is now growing evidence that services supporting women’s safety are facing disproportionate cuts.”

A particular concern are plans recommended in the McNulty report, commissioned by the Secretary of State for Transport, to close 675 ticket offices in rail stations, leaving many completely unstaffed.

Low paid workers are also struggling to afford public transport with some in London experiencing increases of up to 50 per cent over the past four years.

Labour’s report also lists the counties that have switched off street lights to save money, with one switching off half of its 66.000 lights.

In the Usdaw survey, one woman highlighted how the store changed the shift times with the knock-on effect that it was impossible for staff to catch the last public transport home.

Others cited how stores banned night staff from parking in disabled or parent/child bays near the store during the night, even though these spaces were left empty at that time. Some stores switched their car park lights off during the night to save money.

Another respondent said:  “I drive to and from work, feel safe in my car, but in the winter I do not feel safe going to my car as it is dark and  staff have to walk down a dark alley. Customers have had handbags snatched in car park.”

One woman detailed how she was watched leaving work by a group of men.

“Being watched by a group of men whilst walking across car park to my car in the dark, all lighting had been turned off since approx 11.00pm. Noticed that two of the men started walking towards the area I was going to.”

Workers also say they are left outside their place of work for too long waiting to be let in at the start of a shift.

“Sometimes (most of the time) the backdoor entrance is closed for us, especially on Sunday. Nobody is on reception, so we have to wait for too long,” said an employee.

The report entitled ‘What’s happening on your journey to work’ also highlights how staff are trying to overcome these issues.

Some union reps have organised lift share schemes, campaigned for stores to put car parking lights on a timer during the night, and for louder bells and sensor lights to be installed at back entrances so staff don’t have to hang around waiting to be let in.

Usdaw is also lobbying transport executives to ensure large workplaces are on bus routes.

Mr Hannatt said:

“For the vast majority of workers, travelling to and from work is a safe experience, although at times it can be frustrating and expensive.

“However, it is of great concern to Usdaw and it should be for employers and policymakers that such a significant number of workers, whether they are women or men, can feel unsafe on their way to and from work.”

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