MP Bill Esterson is backing calls for greater powers to deal with offenders who attack those who serve the public, in a renewed bid to better protect shopworkers.
He praised the role of the trade union USDAW in Heart Unions week and their Freedom from Fear Campaign in standing up for staff in our shops. He commended the Co-op for their recent report, “It’s Not Part of the Job”, into the need for support for staff. Mr Esterson is a member of both USDAW and of the Co-op.
Bill Esterson is MP for Sefton Central and he supported a call for a specific new offence to be created so that those who work in retail – who face a disproportionate risk of assault simply by going to work – can feel more confident that they will not be attacked in the stores they work in.
Mr Esterson also called for more resources for the police to help them respond when shopworkers were attacked or threatened.
The call for a new law, which is backed by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), came during a Westminster Hall debate last Tuesday (11 February). The debate, on the Protection of Retail Workers, was called by Weaver Vale MP Mike Amesbury. The government is due to publish the results of a review into the issue next month, and Mr Esterson urged Ministers to act without delay.
He said in the debate that 115 retail workers had been attacked every day since the government’s ‘call for evidence’ closed in June 2019. He said: “The ACS estimates that 300,000 retail workers have been either attacked or threatened in that time.”
He added in the debate: “Police numbers have declined by 21,000 since this Government came to office.
“We require shop workers to uphold legislation passed by Parliament, so the least we can do is ensure that we protect those same workers. Legislation on solvents, knives, alcohol and tobacco must all be enforced by staff, and all can be the subject of tensions and verbal and physical attacks.
“The least we can do is ensure that the police have the resources to prevent assaults. Having more police is an essential prerequisite for the prevention of retail crime. Industry is taking steps—£1 billion-worth of steps—and employers absolutely have a responsibility, which they should be held accountable for meeting, to look after their workers. However, the public authorities should act as well, and that is why I repeat that call for the police officers on our streets to support retail workers.
“Retail staff should also be able to rely on the justice system. That means prosecutions for violence, abuse, theft and shoplifting, and support for businesses and their staff. Failure to prosecute lets down the victims, so the Government need to ensure that the criminal justice system is equipped to act. The alternative is repeat offences and ongoing intimidation, threats and violence. A caution is not the answer. Consequences must be meaningful, not meaningless; that is why the Association of Convenience Stores calls for a review of the out-of-court disposal system, which needs attention and a response from the Minister.
“The association’s concern is that it is not disrupting offending and, indeed, is allowing repeat offending against retail workers.
“Will the Government legislate to protect shop workers, including, but not exclusively when enforcing legislation such as age restrictions on sales of corrosives and knives? We have protections in place for emergency workers, and rightly so. Is it not time we did the same for retail workers? Will the Government create a specific offence of assault on a retail worker? Will they review the £200 shoplifting limit, below which no action is taken on thefts? Will they look at the role of organised crime gangs in attacks on shops—an added threat to staff and communities that also needs attention?
“As Helen Dickinson of the British Retail Consortium put it: ‘No one should ever go to work in fear for simply carrying out their job. Retail workers are at the core of our communities across the country and these horrific crimes impact these skilled, passionate and determined individuals that make the industry what it is.’
“This is an incredibly important industry, and I hope that the long-awaited industrial strategy for retail includes an element of protection for retail workers.”
Mr Esterson added, “USDAW and the Co-op have both run excellent campaigns in support of shop workers. Businesses are also calling for more action. Employers should make sure that they minimise risk but the government must play its part too by putting laws in place and making sure that there are enough police and that the courts have the resources to enforce those laws.”
Also supporting the call for action to be taken was the shopworkers union Usdaw.
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary said: “Eight months ago, alongside a broad range of retail employers, we responded to the Home Office ‘call for evidence’ and jointly called for action to tackle this growing problem.
“So it is welcome that the Government is finally going to publish their response next month, but we remain concerned at the pace of progress. They need go much further much faster to address this ongoing, growing and pressing problem.”
“Abuse is not a part of the job and there should be stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers. I support the introduction of a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, courts and most importantly criminals.
“We need decisive action to tackle this growing problem. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”
In June last year, Usdaw responded to the Government’s ‘call for evidence’ showing that from 3,272 retail workers surveyed:
- 62% have been the victim of verbal or physical abuse.
- 80% believe that abuse and violence have increased in recent years.
- Almost a quarter describe threats of physical violence, with over half of these involving threats with weapons – most commonly knives, syringes or bottles.
- 15% describe actual physical violence, varying from workers being pushed, spat upon, punched, kicked or attacked with weapons.
- Usdaw has called for
- Tougher sentences for those who attack shopworkers.
- Changes to the out of court disposals system (e.g. fixed penalty notices) which is failing to have an impact on reoffending.
- A full review into the response of police forces to incidents of violence in retail.
Mr Esterson said: “It’s clear the status quo is not working and more needs to be done to protect the thousands of shop workers who go to work every day to serve us while facing a disproportionate risk of assault and intimidation.”