West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper, has joined with members of the retail union Usdaw to campaign for respect for shopworkers as part of the Freedom From Fear Campaign, which seeks to prevent violence, threats and abuse directed at retail staff.
The campaign event took place the day after the Government blocked a Labour amendment to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which would have introduced a specific additional offence of assaulting a worker serving the public.
The amendment, would have extended existing protections for police officers and Scottish emergency service workers to all workers serving the public, by making the assault of a worker serving the public an offence in its own right. At the moment, under sentencing guidelines, assaulting a worker is an aggravating factor, but there are concerns this is not being applied when decisions are made about prosecutions and sentencing.
MP Rosie said:
“Too often retail employees are confronted with violence, threats and abuse and it is really important we stand by together and ask people to ‘keep their cool and respect shopworkers’.
“I voted for Labour’s amendment to provide for stiffer sentences for offenders and I was very disappointed to see Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs combining to block it going forward. There is a real need to address the scourge of workers being assaulted and I am concerned that assailants are getting away with relatively lenient sentences.
“Like the thug, given a suspended sentence for assault, who goes out to celebrate his 'lenient' sentence and launches a vile racist attack on a woman shopworker, assaults her by pulling out chunks of her hair and walks free from court again.
“Or a man who grabbed a shopworker and pushed him back against a window. He then walked off shouting that he was going to ‘get him’. In court he was told his suspended sentence for a previous offence would not be activated.
“And in other cases, where the offender often isn’t charged at all and victims are left feeling that no one cares that they were assaulted. Like Val, who was punched on the jaw when she asked a persistent shoplifter to leave, because they’d been barred from the store. Val gave a statement and the police saw the CCTV footage. The attacker was arrested but nothing more has happened.
“These cases do not suggest to me that the issue of violence against shopworkers is being taken seriously. I will continue to campaign with Usdaw for a change in the law to ensure that proper punishments are given out and to give a clear message that assaulting workers who are serving the public is totally unacceptable.”
John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary says: “We are grateful to Labour MPs like Rosie who support our campaign to keep our members safe at work.
“Often, in the course of their duties, shopworkers are expected to enforce the law, whether that is preventing under-age purchases or detaining shoplifters until the police arrive, they can be put in real danger.
“I have been shocked by the leniency of some of the sentencing for assault of workers. What we are seeking is a simplification and clarification of the process, by taking the assault of workers out of a list of aggravating factors and creating a separate and distinct offence. This will provide clarity to the public and ensure that the offence is properly considered by the courts.”