Supermarket bosses call for new law to protect staff

The Co-op said lockdown had seen an increase in assaults and attacks on staff in stores.

Supermarket bosses call for new law to protect staff Getty Images

Supermarket bosses are urging MSPs to pass a new law improving protection for staff after a rise in physical assaults and verbal abuse directed at shop workers. 

Derek Furnival, the managing director of the Co-op in Scotland, has written to members of the Scottish Parliament to ask them to support legislation which has been put forward by Labour’s Daniel Johnson.

It comes after the retail group said lockdown had seen an increase in incidents of anti-social behaviour, verbal abuse and physical assaults within its stores.

The Co-op said in the period January to October last year these were 36% higher than the same period in 2019.

If passed, Johnson’s Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill would make it a new specific offence to assault, abuse or threaten retail staff.

And if this took place when someone was trying to buy an age-restricted product – such as alcohol or cigarettes – that would be an aggravating factor, and the offence could be treated more seriously.

With the Co-op having 360 stores across Scotland, Mr Furnival wrote to MSPs ahead of Tuesday’s final vote on the Bill

He said: “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our colleagues who work tirelessly within communities to provide essential food and groceries – and never more so than over the past 10 months.

“We strongly support Mr Johnson’s proposed bill and believe that any law would make Co-op colleagues in Scotland feel safer and more protected as they go about their daily working lives.”

Similarly, Paul Gerrard, Co-op’s campaigns and public affairs director, said: “No one should have to face violence and abuse just for doing their job and we hope that Scotland will continue to lead the way in tackling violence against shopworkers by passing this into law tomorrow.”

The Bill already has the backing of the Usdaw and GMB unions and retail groups including the Scottish Grocers Federation (SGF) and the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) as well as other political parties at Holyrood.

Scottish Labour’s interim leader Jackie Baillie said by voting for the legislation on Tuesday MSPs had “the opportunity to put our labour values into action”.

She said: “Throughout the pandemic, retail workers have done their part to keep people fed and safe. It is our duty as the Labour Party to ensure that these vital workers are kept free from harm at all times.”

Johnson said: “We all owe a great debt to retail workers and I am delighted that my Bill has the backing of members from across the political spectrum.

“Tomorrow the Scottish Parliament has the chance to stand up for working people by making my Bill law – let’s seize that chance.”

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