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Labour challenges the Government to support a new protection of shopworkers law, which is welcomed by Usdaw

Date: 29 November 2023 Retail trade union Usdaw has welcomed Labour’s support for a new protection of workers law, similar to existing Scottish legislation. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper yesterday told the House of Commons that Labour will table amendments to the Government’s Criminal Justice Bill to strengthen the law to protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse.
Speaking in the Bill’s second reading debate about the impact of shoplifting and the need for stronger measures to tackle assaults on shopworkers, Yvette Cooper MP (Labour, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) said: “The whole point is to make it simpler for the police to take action and to send a clear message from Parliament to police that this is an offence we take immensely seriously. That is why Labour will be tabling amendments that reflect the campaigns by Usdaw, the Co-op, Tesco, the British Retail Consortium and small convenience stores for a new law and tougher sentences for attacks on our shopworkers. Everyone should have the right to work in safety and to live free from fear.”
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “We very much welcome this strong commitment from the Labour frontbench to amend Government legislation and introduce a new law to protect shopworkers. This Government has had numerous opportunities to back this measure, which already exists in Scotland, but they have previously chosen to marshal Tory MPs to vote it down. We hope that in the face of all the evidence provided by Usdaw and retail employers, they will this time end their opposition, do the right thing and give our members the protection they deserve.
“It was deeply disappointing that there were no measures announced in the King’s Speech to tackle the current epidemic of shoplifting that is blighting our town centres and stores. So it falls to Labour to plug the gap in the Government’s legislative programme and seek to deliver on the aims of Usdaw’s ‘Freedom From Fear’ campaign. Our latest survey results show that two-thirds of our members working in retail are suffering abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Six in ten of these incidents were triggered by theft from shops, which is clearly the result of a 25% increase in incidents of shoplifting, as shown by the latest ONS stats.
“That clearly demonstrates that shoplifting is not a victimless crime, theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers. Having to deal with repeated and persistent shoplifters can cause issues beyond the theft itself like anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers. Our members are reporting that they are often faced with hardened career criminals in their stores and much of the abuse they suffer is from those who are stealing to sell goods on, often to fund an addiction.
“A protection of shopworkers law would be a great start to tackling abuse of retail staff. We also welcome Labour’s other commitments to 13,000 more neighbourhood police with guaranteed patrols in town centres, respect orders to ban repeat offenders and ending the £200 threshold for investigating and prosecuting shop theft. Labour is clearly offering the change our members need.”
Voices from the frontline: These are some of the comments shopworkers shared when responding to Usdaw’s survey:
  • “Regular shoplifter threatened me and another staff member, said not to try anything because he had a knife.
  • “Shoplifter went to hit me and another said they were going to cut my throat. Had a band of shoplifters coming in being aggressive, rude and threatening.”
  • “Abuse from youths on a daily basis - threats and violence from shoplifters under the influence of drink and drugs.”
  • “Challenged a thief and was pushed and swung at. A shoplifter punched the window next to me and said it would be my face next time.”
  • “Man spat on me when I confronted him for trying to steal coffee from us. Get drunk people who try to steal, swearing at myself and other colleagues.”
  • “Involved in an armed robbery and attacked with a manchette. Had items of stock thrown at me by customers.” 
Notes for editors:

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with over 350,000 members. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemical industry and other trades www.usdaw.org.uk
Interim results of the Usdaw’s 2023 survey, based on 3,082 responses, show that: 65.44% were verbally abused, 42.74% were threatened. 17.52% shopworkers had been assaulted during their career. 4.81% had been assaulted this year. Of those who were abused, threatened or assaulted, 59.71% said that shoplifting was the trigger and their assessment of the underlying issues was 64.07% related to a drug and/or alcohol addiction. The final results of the survey will be published in 2023.
Crime in England and Wales: Police Force Area data tables: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/datasets/policeforceareadatatables
Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2021/6
Criminal Justice Bill 2023: https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3511
Usdaw’s Freedom from Fear Campaign seeks to prevent violence, threats and abuse against workers by engaging the public, shopworkers and the Government. www.usdaw.org.uk/Campaigns/Freedom-From-Fear

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

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