Christina Rees, MP for Neath, condemns the UK 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 has skyrocketed 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 have given 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 shopworker can be prosecuted for not enforcing the law on age related sales, but has no specific protection for abuse they may encounter when doing so.
These amendments were voted down by the UK Government in Parliament on Monday evening, as they continue to refuse to support a specific law that would protect retail workers.
The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) 2020 survey of shopworkers found that 88% of respondents had experienced verbal abuse, 60% had been threatened by a customer and 9% had been 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 shopworkers reporting that abuse was worse than in 2019.
Christina Rees, MP for Neath, said:
“Retail staff have worked on the frontline throughout the pandemic. They already faced abuse and threats for just doing their job and enforcing the law on age restricted products, but with the added task of enforcing Covid regulations it has become abundantly clear that extra protections are needed to keep shopworkers safe.
“It is so disappointing that the UK Government had the opportunity to make it a specific offence to abuse, threaten and or assault a retail worker, yet turned its back on the safety of shopworkers.
“Our key workers deserve to have protections after all they have sacrificed over the past 18 months. A clear message is needed that violence against retail staff will not be tolerated.”