An opportunity to keep shop workers safe from violent attack has been missed in a government bill seeking to curb knife crime, Usdaw has said.
The Offensive Weapons Bill, which introduces rigorous age verification powers to prove that those purchasing knives or corrosives are over 18, is passing through its final stages towards becoming law.
Usdaw’s amendment to make it a specific offence to obstruct a shop worker enforcing the law has been left out, after peers failed to support it in the House of Lords. Usdaw, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, had argued that enforcing the law around age-restricted products is a leading trigger for abuse and violence and that the bill left shop keepers exposed.
Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary said: “Peers had the opportunity to rebalance the Offensive Weapons Bill and provide some protections for retail staff, but it was clear that there was insufficient support.”
Lillis thanked Labour peer Lord Kennedy, who backed Usdaw at the bill’s second reading on 27 February. Kennedy told the House: “People get assaulted in shops and can be treated very badly. Here we are putting on shop workers some big obligations that they have to comply with and deal with, but we are doing nothing to support them.
“We are placing shop workers at the forefront of the delivery issues. They will be at risk of committing criminal offences, being sent to prison, or incurring a community penalty or possibly getting a fine [if they sell products incorrectly],” he added.
Nearly two-thirds of shop workers experienced verbal abuse in 2018 and over 280 workers were assaulted every day of that year, according to Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear Survey.
“The statistics from our survey are shocking, [this] was a missed opportunity and our campaign continues,” said Lillis. “Shop workers are on the frontline of helping to keep our communities safe, they have a crucial role that must be valued and respected.”
The recent debate in the Lords has got the government's attention, however, with Usdaw invited to a roundtable to discuss the issue.
The National Retail Crime Steering Group met on 12 February to issue a call for evidence in order to understand what can be done to protect shop workers from violence and abuse.
Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins, said: “I have every sympathy for retail staff who have been the victims of these appalling acts just for doing their jobs.”
The call for evidence is intended to help strengthen the evidence base on how to protect retail workers from abuse, and to look at all options for addressing these crimes.
Offensive Weapons bill here
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