The UK government has been criticised for ruling out a specific offence of assaulting a retail worker.
Organisations including Usdaw have been campaigning for action following an increase in incidents during the pandemic.
The criticism comes as the Home Affairs Committee has published the government’s response to its report on violence and abuse towards retail workers, which made a series of recommendations, including consulting on the scope of a specific offence to provide extra protection in law for retail workers.
“As we have previously recommended, the government should consult urgently on the scope of a new standalone offence,” the Committee said.
“A clear message must be sent that nobody should feel unsafe at work.”
However, the general secretary of trade union Usdaw Paddy Lillis remains “disappointed and frustrated” that the government has still “not committed” to a simple standalone offence for assaulting a retail worker, to encourage prosecutions and provide the deterrent effect that our employees are “desperately looking for”
This comes as Scottish MSPs voted through a new ground-breaking law to give shop workers more protection, which came into force last month.
“There needs to be a clear message that assaulting or abusing someone working to serve the public is totally unacceptable,” Lillis said.
He revealed over 90 per cent of shop workers are suffering from retail abuse, with more than two-thirds threatened and one in seven assaulted.
“Retail workers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be part of the job,” he said.
“At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a disgrace that staff working to keep food on the shelves and the shop safe for customers are being abused. Action to protect shopworkers is needed.
“When retail employers, leading retail bodies, the Home Affairs Select Committee and the shop workers’ trade union jointly call for legislation, it is time for the Government to listen and bring forward the amendment to their policing bill as promised.”
As s result, Usdaw is urging the government to “keep to their word” and ensure that the measure they bring forward is “substantial and delivers much-needed protections”.
“We are now looking for the House of Lords to similarly support key workers across the retail sector and help turn around the UK government’s continued opposition to additional protections for shop workers from violence, threats and abuse.”
However, the government said it “completely understands and sympathises with all workers who serve the public that face violence and other forms of abuse.
“A wide range of offences already exist that cover assaults against any worker, including retail workers.”
It added: “Such offences include common assault, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, harassment and other public order offences, all of which criminalise threatening or abusive behaviour intended to harass, alarm or distress a person.
“In addition, courts have a statutory duty to follow sentencing guidelines, which are clear that the fact an offence has been committed against those working in the public sector or providing a service to the public should be treated as an aggravating factor during sentencing, meriting an increased sentence.”
with PA Wires