New law comes into force to protect shop workers in Scotland

The legislation makes it a specific offence to assault, abuse or threaten retail staff.

New law comes into force to protect shop workers in Scotland iStock

Shop workers in Scotland are being urged to report attacks and incidents of abuse as new legislation aimed at protecting them comes into force.

Union bosses at Usdaw made the plea as a survey revealed a fifth of retail workers who suffer such attacks do not inform their employers.

Usdaw also revealed details of some of the “heartbreaking” testimonies it has received from staff as part of a survey into the problem.

An Usdaw survey, released during the union’s Freedom from Fear campaign week, found in the last 12 months 92% of retail staff have experienced verbal abuse, with 70% threatened by a customer.

Some 14% of shop staff have been physically assaulted in the last year, the UK-wide survey of almost 2000 workers revealed.

One in five have never reported the abuse to their employer, the survey added, with this including 5% of those who had been assaulted.

The figures were revealed as a new law improving protection for shop workers in Scotland comes into force.

The legislation, the result of a Member’s Bill by Labour’s Daniel Johnson, makes it a specific offence to assault, abuse or threaten retail staff.

If such an attack takes place while the perpetrator is trying to buy age-restricted products – such as alcohol or cigarettes – that would be an aggravating factor which could then result in the offence being treated more seriously by the courts.

Shop workers have complained to Usdaw about the impact coronavirus restrictions have had, with one union member in the Highlands and Islands saying “social distancing and mask wearing have resulted in confrontations that have got particularly aggressive”.

A retail worker reported: “I have had someone throw their shopping at me when I have asked to stay two metres away.”

Another employee in the Lothians area said: “Multiple times I’ve had stuff thrown at me and once was kicked into a machine.”

A worker in the south of Scotland said the abuse they had received included being “sworn at, spat at, kicked at, punched at, eggs thrown at me”.

One employee who asked a customer to follow social distancing guidelines said they “got an absolute mouthful” with the man in question saying he “knew better as he was a doctor”.

One Glasgow worker reported they had “had a bottle held over my head” while working on a till, adding they had also been “called a rat and been warned to watch myself walking home at night”.

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Our latest survey results clearly show the scale of the appalling violence, threats and abuse faced by shop workers and demonstrate why the Scottish Parliament was right to pass a ‘protection of shop workers’ law.

“It has been a terrible year for our members, with over 90% of shop workers suffering abuse, more than two-thirds threatened and one in seven assaulted. We are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be part of the job.”

Lillis called on the UK Government to follow Holyrood’s example and introduce legislation to protect retail workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Tracy Gilbert, Usdaw’s Scottish regional secretary, welcomed the legislation coming into force, adding: “We again thank Daniel Johnson MSP and all MSPs for listening to the pleas of our members and giving them the legislative support they so desperately need.”

She added: “For this new legislation to have a real impact, we need to make sure staff report incidents of violence, threats or abuse to their manager.

“We are aware that some retail workers may feel it won’t make a difference, but my message to shop workers is absolutely clear – report it to sort it.

“We are working with the Scottish Government, police and retailers to promote the new law. We want criminals to understand that assaulting and abusing shop workers is unacceptable and will land them with a stiffer sentence.”

Dr John Lee, head of policy at the Scottish Grocers’ Federation, said: “Crime is unacceptable in our shops. By reporting every incident to police, those responsible will get the message loud and clear that we will not put up with this.

“The Protection of Workers Act is a powerful statement that threats, abuse and violence against shop staff will not be tolerated and that those responsible will face consequences.

“Retail workers do a tremendous job serving our communities. This new law should make them feel safer and more confident about the legal protection they have, as well as making businesses stronger. We are grateful to MSPs and the Scottish Government for making this possible.”

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