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    Usdaw urges NI to introduce legislation protecting shop workers

    Photo: iStock

    Retail trade union Usdaw has on Friday written to the first minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill and deputy first minister Emma Little-Pengelly, urging them to take action to support retail workers who continue to face violence and abuse, amid a huge increase in the number of incidents in recent years.

    Scotland introduced the Protection of Workers Act (Scotland) in 2021, which made it an offence to abuse, threaten or assault a public-facing retail worker in Scotland and the UK Government recently announced it would introduce a similar offence. Without action from the Northern Ireland Assembly, retail workers in Northern Ireland are at greater risk, the union noted.

    Results from Usdaw’s annual survey of over 5,500 retail staff show that 18 per cent of shop workers suffered a violent attack last year, compared to 8 per cent in 2022. The increase in assaults comes during an epidemic of retail crime with official statistics and reports from retailers showing significant increases in theft from shops.

    The survey also found that 70 per cent of retail workers have experienced verbal abuse, nearly hald (46%) were threatened by a customer and almost one in five (18%) were assaulted.

    “Our annual Freedom From Fear survey results of thousands of our members across the UK, including in Northern Ireland, shows that the level of abuse and violence remain significantly above pre-pandemic levels. Physical assaults are at an all-time high. The situation is in danger of becoming normalised in shops,” Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, said.

    “A separate criminal offence will ensure greater visibility and awareness of the scale of the problem, prioritisation and resourcing from the police, certainty from courts and will send a clear message to members of the public that abuse and attacks against retail workers are wholly unacceptable. It will also allow the tracking of the data around cases as they progress through the criminal justice system.

    “Retail workers in Scotland already have the protection of a separate, standalone criminal offence and now retail workers in England and Wales are set to have similar protections. Like the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, we believe that there is a real danger that retail workers in Northern Ireland will get left behind. As such, we would strongly urge that legislation is introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly as soon as possible to ensure retail workers in Northern Ireland are covered by such legislation, on a similar basis to the law in Scotland.”

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