Retailers call for new legislation to protect staff

The chief executives of more than 10 interiors retailers and trade associations have signed a letter calling for the government to introduce better protection for staff, including making assaulting store workers a separate offence, as was recently introduced in Scotland.

The chief executives of B&Q, Bensons for Beds, BIRA, Carpetright, Cath Kidston, Homebase, IKEA UK, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Wickes are among more than 65 which have signed the letter to Boris Johnson, the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary, the Business Secretary and the ministers for crime and small business.

The letter calls for the government ‘to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves and improve protection for our employees by creating a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker.’ This legislation would toughen sentences for those who are violent or abusive towards shopworkers, deter future perpetrators and ensure shopworkers feel safer at work.

‘We write as senior retail leaders to raise our concerns about the increasing problem of violence and abuse being experienced by hundreds of thousands of our colleagues. We ask you to treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves and improve protection for our employees by creating a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening, or abusing a retail worker,’ says the letter. 

‘This has been a growing trend for some time. In March last year, the annual BRC Crime Survey reported that over 400 incidents of violence or abuse were occurring daily. Major triggers for these incidents included challenging customers for ID when purchasing age restricted items or encountering shoplifters. Nearly a year on, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation and caused a dramatic spike in incidents and we now need action from the Government. We have already seen the Scottish Parliament enact similar legislation through Daniel Johnson MSP’s Protection of Workers Bill. We hope you will do the same so that our colleagues in Carlisle have the same protections as those in Dumfries. 

‘Retail businesses have played a full role in the public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic, implementing all regulations, ensuring safety guidance is followed and investing millions in measures to keep customers and colleagues safe from the virus. Many of our colleagues remain on the front line and while they are acting to keep the public safe, their personal safety is threatened as a result. The data is shocking: one business reports seeing more than 4,500 violent incidents involving a weapon during 2020; another has indicated a 600% increase in violent incidents against their employees because of implementing Covid restrictions, including enforcing the wearing of face coverings; another recorded 990 incidents of violence or abuse in the first week after face coverings became compulsory in shops; and many of our members report that their staff have been coughed at or spat on. It is particularly poignant that many people are coming to accept this as just a part of their job. 

‘These are not business crimes, and certainly not victimless crimes. They have a serious impact on people, who have been injured or experienced psychological trauma, their families, and the communities they serve. 

‘The industry is doing all it can to tackle this growing problem and has invested £1.2 billion in crime prevention measures in the last year. This includes supplying body-worn cameras and employing more security guards. 

‘Of course, the majority of customers treat our employees with the kindness and respect they deserve; however, action needs to be taken to deter those who think it is acceptable to be abusive or violent towards them. That is why we are seeking help from the Government and asking you to create a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening, or abusing a retail worker, allowing for the aggravation of that offence where the retail worker is seeking to enforce a statutory age restriction. This could easily be included in the upcoming Sentencing Bill, either during its introduction, or through an amendment. 

‘We hope you will do everything you can to keep our retail colleagues safe from harm.’

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