Usdaw cautions the Government to protect shopworkers in the face of increased shoplifting

Date: 18 October 2013 Shopworkers Trade Union leader John Hannett has welcomed the recent overall decrease in crime, but warns that with shoplifting on the increase the Government must not be complacent about the problems of violence, threats and abuse against retail workers.

This week the Government blocked a Labour amendment to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which would have introduced a specific offence of assaulting a worker serving the public. The amendment would have extended existing protections for police officers and Scottish emergency service workers to all workers serving the public, by making the assault of a worker serving the public an offence in its own right. At the moment, under sentencing guidelines, assaulting a worker is an aggravating factor, but there are concerns this is not being applied when decisions are made about prosecutions and sentencing.

John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary says: “Often, in the course of their duties, shopworkers are expected to enforce the law, whether that is preventing under-age purchases or detaining shoplifters until the police arrive. They can be put in real danger. So it is always a real concern to our members when incidents of shoplifting are on the increase, because too often that can result in the shopworkers being assaulted by the thief.

“I was very disappointed to see Tory and Liberal MPs combining to block Labour’s amendment to provide for stiffer sentences for those who assault workers serving the public. There is a real need to address the scourge of violence against workers and I am concerned that the attackers are getting away with relatively lenient sentences.

“Like the thug, given a suspended sentence for assault, who goes out to celebrate his 'lenient' sentence and launches a vile racist attack on a woman shopworker, assaults her in front of her children by pulling out chunks of her hair and walks free from court again.

“Or a man who grabbed a shopworker and pushed him back against a window. He then walked off shouting that he was going to ‘get him’. In court he was told his suspended sentence for a previous offence would not be activated.

“And in other cases, where the offender often isn’t charged at all and victims are left feeling that no one cares that they were assaulted. Like Val, who was punched on the jaw when she asked a persistent shoplifter to leave, because they’d been barred from the store. Val gave a statement and the police saw the CCTV footage. The attacker was arrested but nothing more has happened.

“These cases do not suggest to me that the issue of violence against shopworkers is being taken seriously. I will continue to campaign with Usdaw for a change in the law to ensure that proper punishments are given out and to give a clear message that assaulting workers who are serving the public is totally unacceptable.”

Notes for editors:

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fourth biggest and the fastest growing Trade Union with over 432,000 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.

Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear Survey Report 2013, the interim results of shopworkers experiences over the last year, from the first 1,844 responses, are:

  • Victims of verbal abuse:     49%
  • Shopworkers threatened:   35%
  • Violent assaults:                  4%

Respect for Shopworkers Week 2013 takes place on 11 – 15 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 shopworker not to take abuse as part of the job and report incidents to their manager.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales, produced by the Office for National Statistics, estimates that victim-based crime fell by 6% in the year ending June 2013 compared with the previous year, except for theft from the person (up 8%) and shoplifting (up 1%) http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/crime-statistics/period-ending-june-2013/stb-crime-in-england-and-wales--year-ending-june-2013.html

New Clause 26, ‘Assault of Workers’ was moved by Jack Dromey MP and debated in Parliament on 15 October (Col 628).  The amendment was lost by 224 votes to 286 (Col 636) http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131015/debtext/131015-0002.htm

Sources of case studies quoted above, Val is an Usdaw member.

For Usdaw press releases visit: www.usdaw.org.uk/news 

 follow us @UsdawUnion

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