A parliamentary debate on the protection of retail workers has seen strong support from all sides of the House of Commons for a specific offence to tackle the issue.
However, Home Office minister Chris Philp declined to offer the government support for a change in the law to better protect shop workers, as called for in a petition by shop workers’ trade union Usaw, which attracted over 100,000 signatures, necessitating the Westminster Hall debate on 7 June.
Introducing the debate, Stockton South MP Matt Vickers said retail staff must be able to do their jobs without the fear of abuse.
“We need a punishment for these crimes that shows that we stand by our retail staff and that acts as a proper deterrent. Often, instances are sparked by retail staff doing the duties that we in Parliament have asked them to do. If we are going to put the burden of statutory responsibilities on them, we need to give them statutory protections too,” the Conservative backbencher said.
While Minister Philp agreed that it was “completely unacceptable” for people in retail to be subject to threats, violence and abuse while serving the public, he called for more reporting of crimes.
“Creating a new offence does not answer the question, because the offence exists already. The aggravating factor exists already,” he said in his reply to the debate. “What is clearly needed is not to criminalise the behaviour; it is criminal already. It is not to elevate the penalty given to those people who are convicted; it is elevated already. What we need to do is to get more convictions, and that starts with reporting.”
Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, said its “frustrating” to hear the government yet again claim that existing offences and Sentencing Council guidelines are enough.
“Currently sentencing is complicated, involving three categories of harm and culpability, 19 aggravating factors and 11 factors reducing seriousness according to sentencing guidelines. 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,” Lillis said.
He added that Usdaw is now looking for the support of MPs for a Labour protection of shop workers amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
“Retail employers, leading retail bodies and the shop workers’ trade union are jointly calling for legislation, so it is time for the government and MPs to listen,” he said.
“So we again urge MPs to support the aims of our petition and persuade the government to back legislation to protect shop workers. They have the perfect opportunity through an amendment from Sarah Jones MP to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which we hope will be supported in the bill committee.”
Commenting, the Federation of Independent Retailers (NFRN) has vowed to leave no stone unturned as it continues to press the police and government to do more to tackle growing incidents of violence, threats and abuse against those working in retail.
“We will continue to lobby the government to tighten the law so that any form of attack on shop workers is taken more seriously and ensure there are more stringent penalties for those who commit such crimes. I would also urge everyone involved in retail to report every crime incident,” Stuart Reddish, national president of the NFRN, said.