12 May 2021

Bira backs call for better protection for retail staff

Bira has united with other retail organisations to call for the Government to take a tougher stance on violence and abuse towards shopworkers.

The coalition, which consists of more than 30 major retail businesses, is urging MPs to avoid shackling over three million shopworkers to a 'life sentence' of violence, abuse and anti-social behaviour by encouraging them to back an amendment to a flagship government crime bill which would offer frontline workers greater protection.

The call for stiffer penalties for those committing assaults and attacks on shopworkers comes as a new report “Breaking the Cycle: Gaining the views of criminal justice practitioners and retail offenders on effective sentencing” is launched.

The research – written by Dr Emmeline Taylor and funded through the Co-op’s Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities, campaign –  offers a response to the White Paper A Smarter Approach to Sentencing and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and provides clear opportunities to encourage Government to legislate to protect and support shopworkers.

Retailers, unions, trade and industry bodies are standing together, writing to the Prime Minister to that tougher laws are needed to protect the three million people that work in the sector. However, the Government is so far rejecting the calls stating that ‘it remains unpersuaded of the need for a specific offence'.

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As previous legislation to protect shopworkers in England and Wales failed at the end of the last Parliamentary session, retailers are now urging Government’ to change its mind and bring forward an amendment - or new clause - to its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill, which would deliver greater protection for all frontline shopworkers.  

The new research supports the Bill’s intention to increase the maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency worker from 12 months to two years imprisonment and, to provide the courts with enhanced powers to sentence in those situations in a way that reflects the severity of that offence. However, it goes on to stress that in light of the increase in the frequency and severity of assaults against shop workers, it is understandable that those working in the retail sector are also calling for similar legislation to protect them, something which would send a clear signal to perpetrators that their behaviour in communities is unacceptable, whilst signalling to victims that these crimes will be taken seriously.

In Scotland, the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) Act became law in February 2021 following a unanimous vote.

Revealing its latest information, in the first quarter of 2021, Co-op has seen almost 400 incidents where weapons have been used against shopworkers, with more than one-in-two (56%) of those involving either sharp implements, such as a syringe or knife or, a bottle.

Last year (2020) Co-op saw a 76% increase in recorded anti-social behaviour and verbal abuse compared to 2019 – with more than 100 incidents every day. Over the last five years (since 2016) there has been a 35-fold increase in this type of incident.

Co-op also saw a near 10% uplift in violent incidents in 2020 compared with 2019, which now means that assaults and attacks on its frontline shopworkers has increased by more than 650% over the same five-year period.

In the latest Crime Survey* (2021) issued by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), the trade body reported that almost nine-in-ten (89%) of those working in local shops had experienced some kind of abuse. Its report estimated some 40,000 incidents of violence in the sector last year, with 65% of respondents having seen Covid related threats to staff.

Dr Emmeline Taylor, author of the report, said: “No one can deny that criminal justice is in need of reform – when nearly two thirds of offenders released from short custodial sentences reoffend within a year it is clear that the system isn’t working.

"The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill provides an opportunity to enact legislation that will better serve victims, protect communities and rehabilitate offenders. The Bill introduces better protections for emergency workers. Given the alarming frequency and severity of assaults against shop workers, an amendment to the Bill to include them would signal that these crimes will be taken seriously. The legal leverage of the new Act could potentially improve the likelihood that offenders comply with treatment services and secure long-term change in their behaviour.”

 Read the letter here

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