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Protection of shopworkers attracts cross-party support at the committee stage of the Offensive Weapons Bill

Date: 28 January 2019 Shopworkers’ trade union leader Paddy Lillis has welcomed cross-party support for a protection of shopworkers amendment to the Offensive Weapons Bill in a House of Lords Grand Committee debate.
Moving the amendment, Lord Kennedy (Labour) said: “We are placing shopworkers at the forefront of the delivery of this Bill. They will be at risk of committing criminal offences, being sent to prison, incurring a community penalty or possibly getting a fine if they have sold products incorrectly. Here we are putting on shopworkers some big obligations that they have to comply with, but we are doing nothing to support them.

“People are assaulted in shops and the perpetrators are not prosecuted. That is why we are asking for a specific offence to deal with this. No one goes to work to be punched, pushed over, or abused. To have a specific offence would give shopworkers the comfort to know that people recognise that they have been asked to do an important job and support them. It should be clear that if people are assaulted in a shop the perpetrators can then be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Supporting the amendment, Lord Paddick (Liberal Democrat) said: “When I suggested that shop workers were acting as law enforcers, the Minister, suggested that shopkeepers were simply obeying the law in not selling age-restricted items and that we all have a duty to obey the law. I disagree. The circumstances in which this offence would take place are those where someone underage tries to buy an age-restricted item and is prevented from doing so by a shopworker, who in these circumstances is enforcing the law. They are compelling observance of or compliance with the law, which is the definition of ‘enforce’. As such, they deserve the protection of the law in carrying out this duty.

“Until very recently I did not support particular protections for shop workers. Being from a policing background, I know we have taken the steps in the law to protect law enforcers, and recently there has been a Bill to protect all emergency workers in this way. But here we are talking about people who are intent on violence; they are looking to get their hands on knives or corrosive substances to commit violence. That is the sort of person that these shop workers are likely to confront and that is why I am now convinced that this is the right thing to do.”

Baroness Newlove (Conservative) said: “In my previous role going around the country, I saw women workers on their own selling alcohol and other quite serious items - corrosives and knives - where the employer put their staff in a predicament by not supporting them fully. When they go out of the shops, they are under further threat in their local communities from these groups of gangs, both girls and boys. So I support a specific offence to put that message right through, because workers do not feel that they are getting the right support. Even from the bigger businesses, I am concerned for workers who are scared to lose their jobs as well.”

Crossbencher Lord Judge said: “We are devising a system which will impose considerable burdens on sellers. The arguments in favour of this amendment are absolutely obvious. The amendment is brilliant legislation too, unlike the rest of the Bill. Here we have a clear statement of what act you have committed—obstructing the seller—and simultaneously the state of mind you are in: you are acting intentionally. Intention to obstruct is a perfectly clear, simple piece of legislation that anybody could understand. There is an argument that there are various ways those who work in shops can be protected, against violence and so on, but this is very limited in what it is seeking to address: obstructing somebody. In these circumstances, when the burden is so heavy on the seller, they ought to be protected.”

Responding to the amendment, Baroness Williams – Home Office Minster said: “I know that there are concerns about the adequacy of the existing legislation for protecting those selling age-restricted products. The call for evidence is intended to help us understand better how the existing law is being applied and whether there is a case for reform, including in the context of the sale of age-restricted products.”

Closing the debate, Lord Kennedy said: “If you go into a store and commit this offence, the amendment would make things easier for prosecutors and give some comfort to shopworkers. I certainly intend to come back to it at a later stage. I hope that we can persuade the Government to act on these matters.”

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “We are grateful for the support our members received from all sides of the House. There was a real understanding of the issues shopworkers face and the impact this Bill will have on their working lives.

“The Government has called for evidence, which we’ll happily provide as we have been doing for many years. So it was right not push the amendment to a vote at committee, but we note that Lord Kennedy indicated he could table this amendment again at the next stage of the Bill.

“Shopworkers will play a vital role in policing the sale of knives and corrosive substances, as they already do on the sale of alcohol and other age-restricted products. Yet they are offered no additional protection under the law and shopworkers can be treated like criminals if a mistake is made at the point of sale.
 
“It is absolutely right that we do everything possible to stem the scourge of knife crime and acid attacks. Shopworkers are on the frontline of achieving that and helping to keep our communities safe. Their role should be valued, they deserve our respect, but most of all they deserve the protection of the law.”
 
Notes for editors:
 
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest and the fastest growing trade union with around 430,000 members. Membership has increased by more than 28% over the 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.
 
Offensive Weapons Bill Grand Committee (1st Day) - 28 January 2019: http://bit.ly/2HGnqtf
 
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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