UK Government must follow Holyrood to protect retail workers, says BRC

BRC Shop Tax

Retail workers in Scotland will now be better protected as the new Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) Act 2021 comes into force. The law, originally proposed by Daniel Johnson MSP and passed unanimously in the Scottish Parliament, comes into force today and will make assaulting or abusing retail staff a standalone offence, with tougher sentences for perpetrators.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is calling on the UK Government to implement the same legislation in England and Wales. On 14September, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will go to the Lords with its Second Reading, and the BRC calls on peers to use this and the following debates as an opportunity to give retail staff the protection they deserve.

BRC says that despite retailers spending a record £1.2 billion on safety measures such as increased security personnel, body-worn cameras and panic alarms, retail violence is getting worse year-on-year. The BRC’s annual crime survey shows that at the beginning of 2020, there were over 450 incidents of violence and abuse every day; a 7% rise on the previous year. Since the pandemic, additional research conducted by the BRC has shown that violence and abuse has escalated even further as retail staff try to implement mandatory Covid safety measures.

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Prior to the pandemic, the most common trigger for violence was when staff asked customers for ID when purchasing age restricted items, as required by law. Retail staff are required by law to challenge customers, so they should be protected by law when this causes conflict.

In July, 100 retail CEOs wrote to the Prime Minister to ask for the creation of a standalone offence. There is widespread support in Parliament with the Home Affairs Select Committee’s recent report concluding extra protections in the law are needed to protect retail workers from a “shocking upsurge in violence and abuse”. Furthermore, 55 cross-party MPs signed the BRC’s Shopworker Protection Pledge promising to support legislation to better protect retail workers.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE, said: “Retail workers in Dundee are now better protected than those in Doncaster. It’s incomprehensible that despite Holyrood’s decisive action, the UK Government has so far failed to provide the same protections to shop workers in the rest of the UK. Given retail workers are required by law to ask customers for age verification, it is only just that they should be protected by law when this leads to violence and abuse. Retail workers have done an incredible job supporting us throughout this pandemic; they should not have to go to work fearing for their safety. We have campaigned long and hard for retail workers to receive better protections through a standalone offence, and we will not stop until our asks are met.

“Too often I hear stories of people working in retail being stabbed by syringes, threatened with weapons, spat or coughed on – Government must take this issue seriously. While victims are left traumatised, perpetrators roam free, with most crimes going unprosecuted. We call on peers in the House of Lords to consider using the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the following debates to deliver better protection for our colleagues. Enough is enough.”

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