Karin Smyth, MP for Bristol South, condemns the Government for voting against the creation of a law that would offer better protections for retail staff as violence, threats and abuse directed towards workers skyrockets since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Labour Party tabled amendments to the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill that would create a specific offence of assaulting a retail worker with a sentence of up to 12 months, and a new offence for assaults committed as a direct result of workers enforcing statutory age restrictions. This would give greater protection to retail workers as they go about their jobs, particularly when enforcing statutory age restrictions on the sale of products such as acid and knives. Currently, a shop worker can be prosecuted for not enforcing the laws on age related sales, but have no specific protections for abuse they may encounter when doing so.
These amendments were voted down by the Government in Parliament on Monday evening, as they continue to refuse to support a specific law that would protect retail workers.
In the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) 2020 survey of shop workers, 88% of respondents had experienced verbal abuse, 60% had been threatened by a customer and 9% were assaulted. Retail staff being asked to enforce social distancing and face masks to keep shoppers safe has put them more at risk of experiencing abuse, with 79% of shop workers reporting that abuse was worse than in 2019.
Karin Smyth, MP for Bristol South, said:
“Retail staff have risked their health to work on the frontline throughout the pandemic, yet instances of abuse and threats have doubled since 2019. Shop workers should not have to go to work fearing they will be abused just for doing their job.
“The Government must take action to protect retail staff, but instead the Conservatives have voted against a crucial amendment which would have made it a separate offence to abuse, threaten or assault a retail worker.
“The Government need to take the safety of shop workers seriously, and stop turning their backs on the issue. A clear message is needed that violence against retail staff will not be tolerated.”