Last week I joined the shopworkers union, USDAW, at an event in Parliament to highlight the “Freedom From Fear” Campaign.
The “Freedom From Fear” Campaign seeks to prevent violence, threats and abuse directed at retail staff. Part of that is a call for a “Protection of Workers Bill” that would introduce a specific offence of assaulting a worker serving the public, thereby extending existing protections for police officers, immigration officers and Scottish emergency service workers.
Too often retail employees are confronted with violence, threats and abuse and it is really important we stand together and ask people to respect shopworkers.
I support Usdaw’s campaign for stiffer sentences and I’ve been very disappointed to see Tory and Liberal MPs, on five occasions in the current Parliament, combine to block this measure when proposed by Labour.
Making the assault of a worker serving the public an offence in its own right would simplify sentencing. Under existing 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.
I will continue to campaign with Usdaw for a change in the law to ensure that proper punishments are given out. We must give a clear message that assaulting workers who are serving the public is totally unacceptable.
I was pleased to discuss the issues with Usdaw General Secretary John Hannett who made the very valid point that often, in the course of their duties, shopworkers are expected to enforce the law. Whether that is preventing under-age purchases of products like knives, tobacco or alcohol, or detaining shoplifters until the police arrive, they can be put in real danger. Parliament has given shopworkers this duty to enforce the law, so Parliament should also provide the protection that they need.