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Government rejects new laws to protect shop workers from assault

BY Lee Craig
Health & Safety

The government has rejected calls from the shopworkers’ union, USDAW, to create stiffer penalties for people who assault shop workers. This despite attacks doubling during the coronavirus crisis. USDAW wants retail workers to get the same rights as emergency service workers – assaults against the latter is punishable by up to one year in prison.

A Government consultation revealed that shop workers are not reporting incidents due to an acceptance of abuse as part of the job, and because they feel nothing would happen if they did.

Most workers responding had experienced attacks or threats of attacks, commonly involving weapons or sharp objects. Repeat offenders return to stores where they have harmed or threatened staff because they do not fear the repercussions.

Of the respondents who had reported incidents of violence or abuse, more than half were not happy with the response from either the police or their manager.
USDAW says that stiffer penalties for assaulting shop workers would encourage workers to come forward, but the Government said no to new laws, instead saying that it would improve signage to tell people not to assault staff and gather more evidence on the drivers for under-reporting of crimes.

Paddy Lillis, USDAW General Secretary said: “At a time when the government is rightly increasing sentences for those who assault emergency service workers, and we congratulate them for that, they don’t appear to understand the role retail workers have in helping to keep our communities safe, preventing crime and anti-social behaviour.”

According to USDAW, attacks have doubled since March 14. Since then 62.2 per cent of workers have been verbally abused, 29 per cent threatened and 4 per cent physically assaulted.

Under the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, assaults against workers are punishable by up to 12 months in prison. People who cough on or threaten emergency workers will also face a year in prison, according to the Crown Prosecution Service. 

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