Protection of Retail Workers Debate

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Department: Home Office

Protection of Retail Workers

Jeff Smith Excerpts
Monday 7th June 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab) [V]
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It is a pleasure to take part in this debate with you in the Chair, Mr Gray. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and note that I am a proud member of USDAW, which does so much great campaign work on this issue.

The pandemic has shown once and for all how vital retail workers are. They have been largely unsung heroes on the frontline of the pandemic—dealing with the public, keeping us supplied and keeping our society going, yet they are regularly abused and assaulted. We have heard some of the shocking statistics from hon. Members, and things have got worse over the last year. In Co-op stores alone in the first quarter of 2021, there have been almost 400 incidents where weapons have been used against shop workers, and more than half of those have been sharp implements such as a syringe, knife or bottle. That is just in the first quarter of 2021.

As today’s report from the Home Affairs Committee says, many incidents go unreported. Some of the people who are reluctant to report incidents said in their evidence to the Committee that it is part of the job, but it should not be part of the job. When I discussed this issue with local shop workers in Didsbury in my constituency, it was clear that this was a really big problem. Despite what the Daily Mail might think, Didsbury is an enviably nice, welcoming, cosmopolitan and mainly middle-class area—and a no-go zone for no one—but we have had issues in recent years with gangs of young people shoplifting. The fear is that when they are challenged, they then become aggressive and abusive, or worse.

A couple of years ago, I wrote to the regional managers of the bigger stores in the area, asking for their support for better security and engagement with the local traders association. Most of them were positive and responsive, but not all, and it should not be down to the attitudes of individual employers or owners for retail workers to be properly protected. The Government need to introduce a framework of protection for workers, which means ensuring that people understand that there are consequences for abusing or assaulting retail workers. As the petition asks for, we need the creation of a specific new criminal offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing retail workers. That is supported across the country by staff, by unions and by shop owners, from small businesses to retail giants. We have heard that, in Scotland, legislation to protect shop workers from violence will come into force on 24 August. I congratulate everyone who has made that happen, but if it is good enough for Scotland, why not for the rest of the UK? We have an opportunity. We do not need to wait for a full Bill to pass through Parliament. If we can support new clause 45 as tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we have an opportunity to make a real difference for retail workers, so let us take that opportunity. Let us help the people who should not be scared just by going to work. “Freedom From Fear”, the USDAW campaign slogan, should not be just a campaign slogan. It should be reality for the people who serve us.