Protections for Shop Workers

Justice – in the House of Commons on 14th December 2021.

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Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on improving protections for shop workers against violence and abuse.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice) , Assistant Whip

Everyone has the right to feel safe at work and the Government share the concern that reports of abuse and assaults against retail workers continue to increase. The Government have therefore tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which will place in statute an aggravating factor based on that currently used by the courts and set out in sentencing guidelines. This will apply where an assault offence is committed against those providing a public service, performing a public duty or providing a service to the public. It will reinforce in statute the seriousness with which the court should treat these offences and will send a strong message to the public that assaults of this kind on retail workers are totally unacceptable.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

I recently visited hard-working shop workers in the Co-op in the ward of Bush Fair in my constituency of Harlow. They have faced abuse, intimidation and often assault, and other shop workers I have met in other supermarkets face the same experiences; that is unacceptable. They have asked me if they can get the same protection as NHS workers are now rightly given. Given that shop workers provided an important public service during covid, does the Minister agree it is important to do that?

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice) , Assistant Whip

My right hon. Friend is a brilliant champion of his constituency. My message to those shop workers is that they may have received abuse from a tiny minority, but the overwhelming majority in the country think they are heroes. I am sure that every single MP thinks our retail workers are heroes; we know the important job they do, and to underline that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with the Home Secretary and the Attorney General will be meeting senior representatives of the retail sector today to talk about this very subject. We are backing them in spirit and we are backing them in law.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Justice)

No one deserves to work in fear of violence and abuse, but this is the daily reality of many shop workers. These same workers will now face an increased risk of violence and abuse as they enforce new Government rules on mask-wearing and social distancing. Scottish Labour has led the charge in legislating to protect retail workers in Scotland by instituting a new specific offence for attacks on shop workers. Will the Minister now commit to doing the same in England and Wales so there is equity across the country and ensure that it is backed by the necessary resources to charge and convict offenders?

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice) , Assistant Whip

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place, as I did in the Committee considering the statutory instrument earlier, which went through very quickly with his co-operation, for which I am grateful.

On the reforms, it is not just about the change to statute that we will put in place by amending the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, important though that is. I emphasise that such reform has been strongly supported by the sector—the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, the British Retail Consortium and others—but it is not just about the law: we are also putting in place the necessary mechanisms to encourage such crimes to be reported, regaining confidence in the police and criminal justice system by bringing the perpetrators to justice, and looking at the root causes of abuse and violence such as drug and alcohol addiction.