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September 22, 2021

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Workplace Violence

Usdaw disappointed by government response to protection of shop workers law

Retail trade union Usdaw has said it is disappointed by the government’s response to a report from a cross-party committee of MPs that recommended a new criminal offence to protect shop workers, following an upsurge in violence and abuse. 

shopping-cartThe House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) report, published 29 June 2021, followed a lengthy inquiry that heard evidence from across the retail industry including Usdaw and Usdaw members. Many reported personal harrowing accounts of the violence, threats and abuse they have received simply as a result of going to work. 

The report identified that violence and abuse towards shop workers is becoming endemic in British society and the policing response is failing to match the scale of the problem. The committee called for urgent improvements in reporting and responding to retail crime, along with a new criminal offence to send a powerful and long overdue message that assaults on retail workers will not be tolerated.

The Government has responded to the HASC report and on the question of a protection of shop workers law, noting that it is committed to considering an amendment in the Lords if appropriate. We will take into account the text of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021 in our consideration.” 

Statistics from Usdaw’s annual survey reveal preliminary results, from nearly 2,000 retail staff across the UK, that in the last twelve months: 

  • 92% have experienced verbal abuse. 
  • 70% were threatened by a customer.
  • 14% were assaulted. 

One in five victims have never reported an incident to their employer, including 5% who had been assaulted.  

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary says: “We remain disappointed and frustrated that the Government has still not committed to a simple stand-alone offence for assaulting a retail worker, to encourage prosecutions and provide the deterrent effect that our members are desperately looking for. There needs to be a clear message that assaulting or abusing someone working to serve the public is totally unacceptable. 

“It has been a terrible year for our members, with over 90% of shop workers suffering abuse, more than two-thirds threatened and one in seven assaulted. Retail workers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be part of the job. At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a disgrace that staff working to keep food on the shelves and the shop safe for customers are being abused. Action to protect shop workers is needed. 

“When retail employers, leading retail bodies, the Home Affairs Select Committee and the shop workers’ trade union jointly call for legislation, it is time for the Government to listen and bring forward the amendment to their policing bill as promised. We urge the Government to keep to their word and ensure that the measure they bring forward is substantial and delivers much needed protections. 

“In Scotland, MSPs voted through a new ground-breaking law to give shop workers the protection they deserve, which came into force last month. We are now looking for the House of Lords to similarly support key workers across the retail sector and help turn around the UK Government’s continued opposition to additional protections for shop workers from violence, threats and abuse.”

Violence and Abuse towards Retail Workers report

The Government has released a document in response to the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) report, ‘Violence and Abuse Towards Retail Workers’ published in June 2021.  

The report made a total of 13 recommendations, including those on: 

  • Consulting on the scope of a specific offence to provide extra protection in law for retail workers.
  • Identifying and measuring the violence and abuse suffered by retail workers in the crime statistics gathered by local police forces.
  • Working with the National Retail Crime Steering Group (NRCSG) to agree an Employers Charter to ensure that retail workers know what they should expect from their employer.
  • Providing additional ‘tool kit’ style materials to support all employers.

Legal framework 

On the question of a protection of shopworkers law, the report states: “In response to an amendment tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on 5 July 2021, the Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins MP committed to consider an amendment in the Lords if appropriate. We will take into account the text of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021 in our consideration.” 

In its response, the government adds that a wide range of offences already exist that cover assaults against any worker, including retail workers. Such offences include common assault, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, harassment and other public order offences, all of which criminalise threatening or abusive behaviour intended to harass, alarm or distress a person. In addition, courts have a statutory duty to follow sentencing guidelines, which are clear that the fact an offence has been committed against those working in the public sector or providing a service to the public should be treated as an aggravating factor during sentencing, meriting an increased sentence.

Click here to read the full Violence and Abuse towards Retail Workers report.

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