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Usdaw is disappointed that the Government has again blocked protection for workers selling alcohol

Date: 21 October 2014 Shopworkers trade union leader John Hannett is disappointed by a Government refusal to stiffen sentences for those who assault workers selling alcohol, following a debate in the House of Lords last night.

John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary says: ‘I am very concerned but not surprised that yet again the Government has blocked necessary protection for workers on the frontline of enforcing licensing laws. On four separate occasions Parliament has had the opportunity to toughen the law to better protect shopworkers, but each time the Tories and Liberals have refused to support the amendment. All too often we see criminals who have assaulted workers getting away with cautions or non-custodial sentences.

‘It simply is not good enough for the Government to rely on Sentencing Council guidelines to tackle this problem. The public are not aware of these guidelines, so they offer no deterrent to attackers. Often the judiciary do not get the opportunity to use the guidelines because the police or Crown Prosecution Service have decided against cases going to court. However, we are not convinced that the judiciary are applying these guidelines even when cases do come before them.

‘We need a simple stand-alone offence that provides stiffer penalties for those who assault workers selling alcohol – an offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS and judiciary. Despite this setback our campaign to protect shopworkers from violence threats and abuse continues, with support from across the alcohol sales industry.’

In moving the amendment, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock said: “Those who serve alcohol are required by the Licensing Act 2003 to enforce that law. They must refuse to serve those who they believe to be under age, and those who are already intoxicated. They are working in febrile environments and are responsible, like police officers, for enforcing the law. If they refuse to do so, they themselves can face legal action or lose their licences. It is therefore unacceptable that these men and women receive no effective protection from the legal system for that additional service and the physical danger that it puts them in.

They, like all workers, benefit from sentencing guidelines that makes the assault of a worker providing a public service one aggravating factor, but it is one of 19 aggravating factors, which is seldom acknowledged. This fails to acknowledge that those who serve alcohol place themselves in greater danger, and make a more vital contribution to public order and to public health, than most others in other professions. According to the Health and Safety Executive, alcohol was the trigger to threatened or actual violence in 38% of cases.

‘The current regime has inadvertently produced a system which disincentivises prosecution and ends up being too lenient. At the moment, if a worker who sells alcohol is assaulted, the crime will usually fall into the category of common assault. The problem is that common assault carries relatively lenient punishments, meaning that in many cases the Crown Prosecution Service decides not to bother prosecuting.’

Notes for editors:

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fourth biggest and the fastest growing trade union with 430,000 members. Membership has increased by more than 17% in the last five years and by nearly a third in the last decade. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the Union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – Report Stage: 20 Oct 2014: Column 509
Amendment 97, Moved by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock

Protection of Workers Campaign is also supported by: National Pubwatch, Wine and Spirit Trade Association, Retail of Alcohol Standards Group, Association of Convenience Stores.

Respect for Shopworker Week 2014 takes place on 10 – 14 November. It is an annual event where shopworkers talk to the public about the problems of violence threats and abuse, asking customers to ‘keep their cool’. Part of the campaign will be encouraging shopworkers not to take abuse as part of the job and report incidents to their manager.

For Usdaw press releases visit: www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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