Protection of Retail Workers Debate

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Department: Home Office

Protection of Retail Workers

Sarah Olney Excerpts
Monday 7th June 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) on introducing this really important debate.

As the first woman to speak in the debate, I would like to take issue with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) when he was making his points earlier. I have to tell him that my husband is actually a much better grocery shopper than I am and much better at seeking out the bargains. Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman is that what is really needed is a change of culture and a change in attitude towards shop workers.

Like the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), I draw on my own experience. Twenty years ago, I was working in a bookshop and I had those experiences of facing customers every day. I also know that the experience in the last year for people working in supermarkets in particular has been really difficult. I know that because both my brother and my brother-in-law are supermarket workers. They have been on the shop floor every day during the pandemic and they have had, along with their colleagues, a really hard time. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to everyone who has kept our grocery sector going at this time.

In common with many other hon. Members, I have been speaking recently to a constituent whose daughter has not been able to work because she is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after a knife was pulled on her during a shift she was working in a shop not far away. The impact that that kind of behaviour has on young people, on women and on vulnerable people is really serious, and that is why I support calls for the Government to introduce a specific law.

It is really important to recognise that we are asking shop workers to enforce the law themselves; they are enforcing the law on age-restricted products such as alcohol, games, DVDs—all sorts of things. We need to recognise that, during the pandemic, they have been called on to enforce all the extra regulations and the social distancing and they have played a really important part in managing shortages. That, of course, has created a great many difficult situations for them. They have put themselves at risk, in harm’s way, to protect the public from the impact of the pandemic, and I think it is high time that we recognised the role that retail workers play in keeping us all safe.

I also want to mention the really important role—again, we have noticed this more and more during the pandemic, but we knew about it already—that retail workers play in maintaining our communities. The biggest issue that so many of us have been dealing with in our constituencies over the last 18 months has been loneliness and isolation, and our retail workers have been the ones to really make a difference in that. Whether we are talking about the lady on the cash register or checkout, or the person bringing groceries to someone’s front door, it is that human connection that has made all the difference to many of our constituents. That is why I think it is high time that we recognised the important role that retail workers play in every community in the land and that to pass this law, or to make the amendment to the Bill that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) mentioned, would be a real step forward. What is absolutely critical is to demonstrate to the public how much we value our retail workers. That will be critical in changing the culture, as the Member for Huddersfield mentioned, and that to me is the most important thing.