Retail trade union Usdaw is disappointed by today’s Government response to a report from a cross-party committee of MPs that recommended a new criminal offence to protect shopworkers, following a shocking upsurge in violence and abuse. The Government has a further opportunity to indicate a change of heart at the second reading of their flagship crime bill next Tuesday in the House of Lords.
The influential 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 shopworkers 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 today responded to that HASC report and on the question of a protection of shopworkers law said: “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.”
Shocking statistics from Usdaw’s annual survey lay bare the scale of the problem. Preliminary results, released last month, from nearly 2,000 retail staff across the UK show 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 shopworkers 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 shopworkers’ 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 shopworkers 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 shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse.”