Major retailers follow in Scotland's footsteps in calls to protect workers

John Lewis is among the retailers who have signed the letter.
John Lewis is among the retailers who have signed the letter.
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Scottish retailers have added their voices to calls for the UK Government to follow in the footsteps of the Scottish Government to consider a crackdown on violence against shopkeepers.

A letter signed by 47 retail bodies including the British Retail Consortium and major chains such as John Lewis and Asda, calls for “bold, ambitious and collective action” to deliver meaningful change that will reduce levels of violence and abuse, both from central Government, the wider justice system and from retailers themselves.

The Scottish Grocer’s Federation and Edinburgh-headquartered supermarket Scotmid have also signed the letter.

A members’ bill put forward by MSP Daniel Johnson is currently going through Holyrood, demanding that new criminal offences are introduced for those who abuse and are violent against staff.

Figures from the 2019 ACS Crime Report show that in the convenience sector alone, there were almost 10,000 incidents of violence and abuse last year. Additionally, union USDAW’s Freedom From Fear survey shows that over the last year, nearly two thirds of shopworkers experienced verbal abuse and 40 per cent were threatened by a customer.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Violent or abusive behaviour towards shop staff is wholly and utterly unacceptable. Retail workers in Scotland and across the UK should be able to work free from fear of violence, intimidation or abuse. Our data suggests such incidents is a growing problem despite retailers investing considerable time and resources in protecting and training their colleagues.

“Many of these crimes are thought to be linked to purchases of government-licensed and age-restricted products. Recent years have seen more of these duties placed on shop workers, making them more at risk in these situations. That’s very concerning and is why we are behind Daniel Johnson MSP’s proposals to change the law in Scotland, so that the law is fit for purpose and that the sentences available to the courts are stiff enough and offer a sufficient deterrent.”

The letter makes a series of recommendations to Government for tackling violence and abuse, including tougher sentences for those who attack shop workers, a change to the out of court disposals system such as fixed penalty notices which it says is failing to have an impact on reoffending, as well as a full review into the response of police forces to incidents of violence in the retail sector.

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “Retailers and staff that have been subjected to abuse often give up on reporting crimes to the police because nothing is done, and that needs to change.

“We need fundamental reform of the justice system to deter criminals from committing lower level offences, more consistent police response to show retailers that they take incidents of violence and abuse seriously, and ultimately tougher sentences to tackle reoffending rates when the worst does happen. No one should have to go to work fearing abuse as part of their everyday life.”

John Lee, head of public affairs at the Scottish Grocers' Federation, said he hoped the members' bill would go to a Holyrood committee shortly after the Scottish Parliament reconvenes in September.

He said: "We wanted to support these calls [to the UK Government] today. We need to see a cultural change and make people more aware of what is happening to shop workers."