Shop assistants fear abuse from customers over mandatory face coverings

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger


Shop assistants have said they fear abuse from customers over mandatory face coverings.

The Government has announced that from July 24, shoppers will be legally obliged to wear face coverings in supermarkets, but it is unclear whether this guidance applies to other food retailers like cafes, bakeries and delis.

Rizwan Ahmed, a shop assistant at a small supermarket in Maida Vale, London, said most customers arrive without face coverings despite signs requesting they wear one.

Mr Ahmed, 38, said: “I’ve been telling everyone (to wear masks), but people don’t care now.

“Some people wear them, some don’t. Say we have 100 people pass through the shop, about 10 will be wearing a mask.”

He said having to enforce the new law will create a “difficult situation” for shop assistants, adding: “There could be trouble, because some customers mind.”

Shoppers wearing face coverings on Oxford Street, London Credit: Dominic Lipsinki/PA

Supermarket assistant Holly, 34, from Solihull, agreed the restriction is likely to cause tension between staff and customers.

She told PA: “We have had people become very irate when we have had to limit purchases and remind them about the one-way system.

“So yes, I do think myself and the colleagues will get more abuse from members of the public. Especially our regulars who probably think we will let them off.”

She added the restriction is “too little too late” and the police do not have time to deal with shoplifters, let alone people failing to wear a mask.

According to a YouGov poll on July 12, 38% of people in the UK said they wear a face covering in public spaces – up from 13% on May 1 and six percent the day before lockdown was enforced on March 27.

Victoria Szatmari manages Peppermint cafe in Maida Vale Credit: Laura Parnaby/PA

Victoria Szatmari, 28, who manages Peppermint cafe in Maida Vale, said she believes “most” customers will be conscious about wearing a mask, but is “a little” worried about whether she will be expected to enforce it.

Elena, a bakery manager in London who did not want to give her full name, said she is also unsure whether the restriction will apply to her shop, and worries warm weather may make customers less likely to comply.

She added: “I’m from Italy and a lot of people there are complaining about wearing masks because it’s really really hot, and I completely understand how they feel.”

“Definitely some people will get angry or annoyed about it,” she said.

Customers queue between social-distancing markers on the pavement outside a supermarket in Westminster Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

The Department for Health told PA it will keep the regulations “under review” and will “continue assessing if measures need to be put in place for other settings going forward” though has not clarified which settings are included initially.

According to their latest guidance, the public “should wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said she supports the restriction, but warned that retailers must not be responsible for enforcing it.

She said: “With hundreds of incidents of violence and abuse directed at retail staff every day, we welcome the announcement that enforcement will be left to the authorities, rather than potentially putting hardworking retail colleagues in harm’s way.”

Shoppers in Glasgow where face coverings are already mandatory in stores Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA

Trade union Usdaw said the Government’s announcement on face coverings “leaves many questions unanswered” and agreed enforcing the rule could become a “flashpoint” for abuse.

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “It is right to make the wearing of face coverings mandatory in shops, but there must now be clear and detailed guidance from the Government.

“We urge them to develop and agree that with Usdaw and retail employers, as we successfully did on joint safety guidance for the reopening of high street shops with the British Retail Consortium.”