MPs debate call for new offence for assaulting retail workers

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Retail workers in England should be given the same protections against violence as their colleagues in Scotland, a Committee heard.

The Petitions Committee, which considers e-petitions submitted to Parliament, met on 7 June. MPs were there to discuss the union representing shop workers, Usdaw's, petition, which has gathered over 104,000 signatures, to create a new, standalone offence of abusing, threatening or assaulting a retail worker.

The Committee heard how the British Retail Consortium has recently reported 455 incidences of abuse every day in the UK.

Matt Vickers, conservative MP for Stockton South said that although attacks have been triggered by staff having to enforce social distancing and mask wearing, problems have pre-dated the Pandemic.

“Our retail workers are mothers, some are semi-retired, or students, and being subject to disgusting abuse,” he said.

Vickers told of one worker who had been dragged out of a store and beaten up by a gang of teenagers. The worker had reported ‘having to wrestle needles out of drug addicts hands to prevent harm to colleagues.’ “We can’t have our shops turning into the Wild West. We need to make it safe for everyone,” said the MP who chairs the Committee. 

In Scotland, The Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) Bill became an Act on 24 February 2021 after it was introduced in 2019 by Daniel Johnson MSP. It makes it a criminal offence to assault, threaten or abuse workers in bars, restaurants or shops.

The government has said it is not persuaded that a specific measure is needed to protect the workforce in England. Responding to the petition it said: “A wide range of offences already exist which cover assaults against any worker, including shop workers.”

However, Usdaw says that sentencing is too complicated. Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary, said: “A separate offence for assaulting a retail worker would be easier to determine, encourage prosecutions and provide the deterrent effect that our members are desperately looking for.

"A clear message that violence against someone working to serve the public is not acceptable, which is exactly what Conservative, SNP and Labour MPs called for at this evening’s debate.”

For more information, visit the Petitions Committee website here 


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