Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw continues to be disappointed by the Government’s repeated opposition to tougher laws to protect retail staff against violence, threats and abuse, after the Justice Secretary defends the status quo in a House of Commons question time.

Mike Hill MP (Labour, Hartlepool) asked: 
“All too often, people who commit retail crime escape a custodial sentence. The Scottish Parliament recently passed legislation that will provide frontline retail workers with important protection from abuse and violence when they serve their communities. Will this Government finally ensure that key retail workers in England and Wales are covered by similar specific legislation?”

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland responded:
“I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that important issue. He is right to talk about retail workers being on the frontline. He can be reassured that in relation to offences such as assault and other serious crimes well known to the law, the Sentencing Council has set out guidelines in which it specifically refers to people such as retail workers in an important public service position, which means that the courts should be increasing sentences and finding aggravating factors where shop workers have been the victims of crime. I think all of us in this House share the need to support our shop workers, particularly at this time of covid when they have done an outstanding service to us all.”

Usdaw’s 2020 survey of 2,729 shopworkers across the UK found that:

  • 88% experienced verbal abuse
  • 61% were threatened by a customer,
  • 9% were assaulted.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary says:
“Business as usual is not what our members need. They are key workers who have seen an already growing problem become much worse during the pandemic as incidents of violence, threats and abuse doubled during the peak of the crisis. We are grateful to Mike Hill MP for raising the issue, but deeply disappointed to hear the Justice Secretary claim that existing sentencing is enough of a deterrent, when quite clearly that isn’t the case.

“Our latest survey results lay bare the scale of the appalling violence, threats and abuse faced by shopworkers and demonstrate the need for a ‘protection of shopworkers’ law. It has been a terrible year for our members, with almost 90% of shopworkers suffering abuse, two-thirds threatened and nearly one in ten assaulted. Retail workers, their friends, family and loved ones, are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be just a part of the job.

“The UK Government responded to our petition with little more than sympathy and objected to the Alex Norris ‘protection of shopworkers’ bill. Last month we had a great result for our members in Scotland, as MSPs voted through ground-breaking legislation to give shopworkers the protection of the law that they deserve. So we are now looking for MPs to support key workers across the retail sector and help turn around the UK Government’s opposition.”

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers)is the UK’s fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

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