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The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-14514, in the name of Cara Hilton, on protecting workers from violence and abuse. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes that the annual Usdaw Respect for Shopworkers Week will be held from 9 to 13 November 2015; understands that Usdaw’s Freedom from Fear campaign seeks to prevent violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers; is concerned that every day more than 300 shopworkers are assaulted for simply doing their jobs, with more than 55,000 incidents of verbal threats and physical abuse recorded in the last year alone; believes that this situation is unacceptable and that people who provide a service to the public in Dunfermline in Fife and right across Scotland deserve to be able to go about their jobs without fear of abuse and violence and notes Usdaw’s call for action by both the Scottish and UK governments to ensure that all public-facing workers have better protection from violence, abuse and threats for simply doing their job; commends Usdaw on what it considers its fantastic campaign, and wishes Respect for Shopworkers Week 2015 every success.
I am very pleased to have secured this debate on protecting workers from violence and abuse. It is fitting that we are discussing the issue during respect for shopworkers week.
Christmas is fast approaching. If members do not believe me, I can tell them that the John Lewis advert, which for many people is the festive starting gun, was unveiled last Friday. Indeed, my kids told me this morning that there are only 42 sleeps until the big day. However, as we all prepare for the run-up to the hectic Christmas shopping period, there is a serious issue for John Lewis and the countless other retailers that rely on the hard work and patience of their staff to deliver their services and boost their profits, not only during the festive period but throughout the year. The efforts of shopworkers often go unnoticed as they assist stressed mums and dads and help to ensure that our kids wake up on Christmas morning to the must-have toy with their belief in the magic of Christmas still intact, and as they deal with shopoholics desperate for a bargain in the pre-Christmas sales.
What shopworkers do not deserve in return is the abuse, violence and threatening behaviour that escalate during the festive season. We all remember the chaos that was black Friday last year, when shopworkers were assaulted, threatened and abused in the mad consumer dash for a bargain. Black Friday exposed the growing scale of a problem that USDAW has been highlighting for more than a decade. Every single day in the United Kingdom, more than 300 shopworkers are assaulted at work. In Scotland last year, 25,000 shopworkers were assaulted simply for doing their job.
Respect for shopworkers week is a welcome opportunity to urge shoppers to keep their cool, to encourage employers to take action to improve workplace security and to spread the message that abuse of any nature towards retail staff is simply not acceptable.
The message to workers who serve in our shops is equally important: abuse is not part and parcel of their job. Nowhere will we find a job description that requests “experience in accepting abusive behaviour desirable”—but abuse and threats are a daily reality for thousands of shopworkers across Scotland.
Those shopworkers include my constituent, Val. She called into the shop where she worked with her daughter to do a bit of shopping and noticed an individual who was banned from the shop, having been caught shoplifting on several occasions. She alerted her manager, who requested that, because she knew the individual, she should ask him to leave. Out of loyalty to the company, Val did so, even though she was not working at the time. She was rewarded for her loyalty by being punched in the face. The assault was reported to the police, but, despite Val being able to name her assailant and the assault being captured on closed-circuit television, no-one was ever prosecuted.
Those shopworkers also include Muir, who works in a busy convenience store in Glasgow. He worries constantly that he could lose his job if he sells alcohol to someone who cannot provide proof of age or who is already intoxicated. He says that customers regularly become abusive and make threats when they are refused a sale or asked for identification.
Then there is the shopworker in Livingston who has been physically assaulted three times in the past 12 months—punched twice and, most recently, cut with a knife—but who does not believe that there is any point in complaining because that type of violence is just par for the course for jobs in retail.
There is also the shopworker—he does not want to be named for fear of reprisals—who says that he is verbally assaulted every week and is threatened with violence at least once a month. He recently apprehended a shoplifter, who warned him that she would spray him with the aerosol can she was holding and then set him on fire.
Those are just four examples from the front line, but there are many more. In fact, USDAW’s most recent survey on violence at work found that a staggering one in every two shopworkers in Scotland has been verbally abused in the past 12 months, with 8 per cent experiencing abuse every single week. More than one in four shopworkers in Scotland have been threatened in the past 12 months, and 9 per cent have been victims of physical violence. Despite that, two thirds of shopworkers in Scotland do not report such incidents. When we reflect on the outcome of Val’s case, is that even a surprise?
The Health and Safety Executive’s latest analysis of the crime survey for England and Wales found that there were 649,000 reported incidents of violence at work and that violence at work is on rise at a time when overall levels of violent crime are down. I would like to be able to refer to the Scottish figures, but it appears that the Scottish Government no longer collects them. I suggest that, as a matter of urgency, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs should review the decision to stop collecting and recording information on work-related crimes so that we can get a true picture of the scale of the problem in Scotland.
USDAW’s freedom from fear campaign is doing a great job in raising awareness, but the only way to tackle what is an on-going issue is to introduce tougher laws that punish those who are guilty of committing assaults on people who are merely doing their jobs.
In 2010, my Labour colleague Hugh Henry introduced a bill to give retail staff the rights and protections that most of us take for granted at work. It is only right that, as shopworkers are in the firing line when it comes to preventing underage customers from buying alcohol and tobacco, we put in place the measures to protect them when the consequences of those workers doing their job take a violent turn.
Scotland’s shopworkers deserve much better. Every worker has the right to be treated with respect and dignity by the public and protected from fear and danger by their employer.
Unlike many debates in the Scottish Parliament, this is not about powers—we already have the powers to act to protect shopworkers in Scotland. I hope that the Scottish Government will think again and look afresh at taking action to protect shopworkers and all other workers who serve the public—workers who, right now, are exposed to daily abuse, which is simply unacceptable.
In our election manifesto for next year’s Holyrood elections, Scottish Labour will pledge to take action. I hope that, in the new spirit of cross-party consensus on workers’ rights, which was demonstrated this week in the debate on the Trade Union Bill, the Scottish National Party will agree to match our pledge.
No one in Scotland should work in fear of abuse, violence or intimidation. We should send a clear signal from the Scottish Parliament that we will not tolerate physical or verbal violence against working people in our country. Shopworkers deserve more than warm words and sympathy; they deserve action and real support.
The fact that in Scotland around 30 shopworkers are assaulted every day means that 1,200 will be assaulted before Christmas day. John Hannett, USDAW’s general secretary, is right to say that enough is enough. I hope that the Scottish Government will listen and act to provide shopworkers with the support that they need and deserve. I look forward to hearing what the minister has to say about the matter, because everyone deserves to feel safe at work. It is time to send out a clear message that it is totally unacceptable to abuse or assault workers who serve the public, and it is time to act to make freedom from fear a reality for all workers in Scotland.
I commend once more USDAW’s fantastic freedom from fear campaign. Christmas shopping can be stressful, but I ask people to please spare a thought for shopworkers and to keep their cool this Christmas.
I echo what Cara Hilton said about the need to respect and protect shopworkers. She is right. We take what they do for granted.
It is a shame that there is only one SNP back bencher in the chamber to participate in the debate, because it is an important debate for the hundreds of thousands of shopworkers throughout the country who regularly face intimidation, violence and abuse. The fact that 2,500 shopworkers in Scotland are assaulted each year is completely and utterly unacceptable.
In many respects, it is easy for us to participate in this debate. Who in their right mind would disagree that shopworkers, and indeed bus drivers, train drivers, postal workers and others who serve the public, deserve respect? They all deserve respect and they all deserve our support.
However, those workers are looking for a bit more from us than the warm words that Cara Hilton mentioned. It is dead easy to come to the chamber and say that shopworkers have our support and that USDAW’s freedom from fear campaign is fantastic, although it is true that it is a fantastic campaign. USDAW is a campaigning union and John Hannett has been right to put his lead into the campaign. So what, though, if we say that it is a great campaign? That does not make a difference to Val in Dunfermline, who was assaulted, or to Anne Will, an USDAW representative in Johnstone in my constituency, and her members when they are faced with violence and abuse. They are looking for a bit more from us than just the politicians’ warm weasel words that they have our full support, that it is absolutely disgraceful and something should be done about it or that people should be nice to shopworkers and others. They might respond by asking us what we, with the power to legislate and make a difference, are going to do about it. They do not want to hear us say, “Well, that’s just a wee bit too difficult. It’s not as easy as you think. We’d love to do something, but we just can’t do anything at the moment.” Frankly, that is just utter garbage.
In 2005, the Parliament decided that medical staff deserved additional legal protection, and for good reason. Assaults on hospital doctors and nurses are beyond the pale. In fact, we also gave that support to police officers, fire officers and other emergency services staff. In 2008, the SNP Government, which supported that legislation, decided that other workers who serve the public also deserved that additional legal support. It is quite right that the Government extended that support to doctors, nurses and others, and I commend it for that.
Why, then, will the Government not extend that same extra protection to the workers it asks, on our behalf, to challenge people who are buying alcohol? It asks them to challenge those people and to refuse to sell them alcohol on the basis of age, putting themselves on the line and at risk of the assaults and abuse that have been mentioned, so why will it not give them that additional support as well?
Today should be an opportunity for us to say to USDAW, to shopworkers and to other public sector workers, “We give you our full support but we are prepared to give you more than warm, weasel words; we are going to do something to make that protection a reality.”
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and I congratulate Cara Hilton on bringing the issue to the chamber. Violence against shopworkers is unacceptable in any circumstances, as indeed are threats and abuse. We all use shops, many of us at odd times of the day and night. Indeed, by virtue of the modern approach to retail, on many occasions, workers are few in number when we go into a shop. Those workers need reassurance that they can carry out their work free from intimidation. It is unacceptable that, as USDAW points out, 30 workers a day are abused or assaulted simply for doing their job.
I recognise the importance of USDAW’s freedom from fear campaign in raising public awareness. Many members may have forgotten black Friday last year. In case anyone needs to be reminded, that was the shopping day when retailers sought to boost pre-Christmas spending by discounting for the day. Black Friday brought out the worst in some people. I read with horror the story of one shopworker who worked for a large retailer in leafy, middle-class Richmond. The shopworker described their experience, saying:
“I would say most of the people were 35 to 55 years old. That really surprised us; we were expecting youngsters, the 21 to 30 year olds. But the ones we saw were very affluent. They were driving BMWs and Mercedes—”
I would like to make some progress.
“—and carrying designer handbags. In fact the affluent people seemed to be the worst ones. The worst thing I saw during my shift concerned one young lad who worked for us who had learning disabilities. He liked talking to customers but on this occasion, a customer slapped him on the forehead. They just leant over ... and slapped him, telling him he was stupid and should have been at home.”
That was perhaps an extreme case but reports generally referred to scuffles between shoppers. Such incidents still place an inherent risk on overworked staff, who might be expected to intervene in what one journalist described as “Walking Dead”-type scenes on black Friday last year, with hordes of shoppers
“frantically clawing for the best bargains.”
Very few, if any, employers operate anything less than a zero-tolerance approach to violence against employees. That is right and proper, as employers have a duty of care to their employees. However, effective prevention of the risk of violence is essential, as is raising awareness. That is why it is important for the Scottish Government to work with unions on the issue, and I hope that it will publicise more widely publications such as the violence in the workplace guide or Unison’s helpful documentation that outlines what employers need to do to keep their workforce safe, particularly via effective implementation of health and safety legislation.
Advice for employers and staff on how to identify and defuse trigger situations and behaviours that may result in aggression, physical violence or abuse, is—and will remain—important. The unions recognise the importance of workplaces and employers using preventative measures to avoid any assaults on shopworkers, and employers recognise that, too. However, the Government also has a duty: it must recognise the importance of such measures and continue to work with employers, the police and the prosecution and court services to ensure employee safety at all times.
Let us remember that the Scottish Government is investing in educational initiatives, such as no knives, better lives, medics against violence and mentors in violence prevention. Through those initiatives, young people are learning that any form of abuse or violence will not be tolerated.
I believe that there is an issue with recording. USDAW states that 22 per cent of workers have not reported incidents to their employer, and it is not ideal that the most recent information in the Scottish crime and justice survey dates back to 2008-09, when 35 per cent of staff said that they had experienced verbal or physical abuse. I would be interested to hear the minister’s comments on what can be done to record abuse accurately.
I thank Cara Hilton once again for bringing this important debate to the chamber.
In view of the number of members who wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion under rule 8.14.3 to extend the time for debate by up to 30 minutes.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by 30 minutes.—[Cara Hilton.]
Motion agreed to.
I welcome the opportunity to speak about respect for shopworkers week and the wider freedom from fear campaign that USDAW has been running on behalf of its members in the retail sector. I congratulate Cara Hilton on bringing the debate to the chamber and giving us all, on all sides of the chamber, the chance to express our solidarity with Scotland’s shopworkers, our appreciation for the work of their trade union and the importance of the campaign.
I was delighted to volunteer with USDAW earlier this week in East Kilbride as we took the campaign to customers and workers in the shopping centre, raising awareness of violence in the workplace and explaining the importance of keeping your cool during the busy and sometimes stressful Christmas shopping period.
All over the country, USDAW’s representatives are reaching out and taking their message into shops and staff canteens. Abuse is not part of the job, and nobody who works in our retail sector should expect to be abused or assaulted in the course of their duties. The vast majority of people out there know what kind of behaviour is acceptable and what is not. However, 2,500 shopworkers were assaulted in Scotland last year, and it is a shame that some people still need reminding. If the campaign is enough to make people think again before lashing out at someone who is simply doing their job, it is worth it.
Of course, there is more to the campaign than what the public see during respect for shopworkers week. USDAW distributes guidance to its members with advice on how to stay safe at work and it encourages its members to report abuse, as there is evidence that violence in the workplace is underreported. There is also plenty of helpful information on USDAW’s website, which I would encourage any shopworker to visit to find out more about the freedom from fear campaign.
USDAW also helps its union representatives to campaign on the ground to reduce the risk of violence in the workplace. That can mean lobbying employers or local authorities to take steps to make the workforce safer. Now the darker nights are here, are our town centres and high streets well lit and safe enough at night? Do shops have a good enough relationship with the police in their community? Are staff properly trained to deal with difficult customers, and do they know who to go to for help? Those are just some of the issues that the campaign gets workers thinking about locally in their shops and communities.
On a national scale, we need to think about how we in the Parliament play our part. If there is evidence that violence at work is underreported, should we be doing more to gather evidence and understand the problem? As legislators, are we confident that the law as it stands is strong enough to protect workers? Could new legislation act as a stronger deterrent and prevent violence against shopworkers and people who work in public-facing jobs?
We must reflect on how we as a Parliament respond to the campaign not just with words, but with deeds. Once again, I commend USDAW for all the work that it does during respect for shopworkers week. I also commend the workers, who are about to experience the busiest shopping period of the entire year.
This debate has given us an opportunity to reflect on the risks to which shopworkers are exposed and on how we can work together to mitigate those risks and make workplaces safer.
I congratulate Cara Hilton on securing this debate and on her excellent speech, which was delivered with real passion.
I agree that everyone has the right to work free from assault or fear of abuse. USDAW has worked hard to promote its freedom from fear campaign, which seeks to protect shopworkers from threats, abuse and violence. I certainly think it a very worthwhile campaign and I will do anything that I can to publicise the union’s efforts on it.
Hugh Henry reminded us that back in 2005 the Scottish Government legislated to protect front-line emergency workers from threats and abuse at work. Although I supported the broader aims of the Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill, I voted against it, because I believed then, as I still do, that one single piece of legislation must exist to protect all workers, regardless of occupation. A two-tier structure that protects only those in the emergency services fails to grasp the whole issue.
I am happy to reflect further on that point by Mr Henry because I think that there is something in what he says. I think that the logic of singling out particular groups is difficult, so a wide-ranging approach that covers everybody makes more sense to me. I am happy to take away Mr Henry’s point and consider it further because I think that there is some sense in it.
Cara Hilton mentioned the chaos that was black Friday last year. We are now nearly one year on from that, so the debate comes at a very important time for those who work in the retail sector. Although many people in the chamber will be looking forward to the Christmas period and getting some time off to spend with family and friends, retail workers have to deal with long and unsociable hours at that time of year, and the last thing that they should expect is customers who are either violent or abusive.
I can talk from some personal experience because my wife used to work in retail. I remember her telling stories of shopworkers on Christmas eve trying to close the store doors at 6 o’clock so that they could get home, and customers literally hammering on the doors to get in to do last-minute shopping, having no understanding of, or sympathy for, the fact that the workers needed to have some time to spend with their families. Shoppers and the public need to have a more responsible attitude.
This year, the week of black Friday is set to attract one in five British shoppers, making it more popular for shopping than the week before Christmas. Nobody wants to see a repeat of some of the scenes that we saw last year, when shop assistants played referee in fights over televisions and PlayStations. If we are to avoid scenes of chaos like we saw last year, retailers will have to do more to protect their employees. Huge discounts, coupled with limited availability, can lead to only one outcome, so retailers must deliver adequate security. Walmart in the US is employing an additional 25 employees at each of their stores as well as extra security personnel, and perhaps UK retailers could do likewise.
Retailers must also make it clear that where assault and abuse happen on their premises, they will always seek prosecution. It is important that shopworkers feel that they have the full backing of their employer when dealing with customers. When it comes to assault and abuse, the customer is never right.
We know that assaults on workers are not limited to shopkeepers. As was said earlier in the debate, front-line emergency staff, bus drivers and parking attendants have had to deal with abuse from members of the public, sometimes on a daily basis. I was particularly shocked to learn that assaults on traffic wardens in Perth and Kinross made up the majority of the 85 reported instances of that crime in Scotland last year.
In addition to the legislative solutions that have already been talked about in the debate, the Government should seek to create a wide-ranging public information campaign that makes it fundamentally clear that there is a zero-tolerance approach to those who abuse shopworkers and, indeed, all public-facing staff. I hope that the Scottish Government will take a lead on this issue and work with employers and the police on it.
Again, I commend USDAW for being a powerful advocate for its members’ rights and I congratulate the union on its campaign.
I add my congratulations to those of my colleagues to Cara Hilton on securing this debate at a very opportune moment. I also congratulate the USDAW trade union on its imaginative campaign, its clever keep your cool slogan for Christmas and its very arresting campaign materials.
No one should face abuse, intimidation or violence at work. The figures that we have on shopworkers in the UK are quite staggering: 300 shopworkers are assaulted every day and in the last year there were 55,000 incidents of verbal threat or physical abuse, and violence at work went up by 1 per cent. Those figures are atrocious—no one should be expected to tolerate such behaviour in the course of their employment—but at least they are captured. I appeal to the minister to look at what he can do to ensure that figures for Scotland—health and safety figures and figures from other sources—are captured, so that at least we have the picture. That way we will be able to understand the scale of the problem and what we need to do to bring down the figures, whatever they are. We must have a zero-tolerance approach to that kind of behaviour, and I am sure that the minister will want to reflect on that.
We need legislation to ensure that public-facing workers have better protection under the law, which is something that USDAW has long argued for. As Murdo Fraser rightly said, that legislation should be accompanied by a campaign of public information, and we should go further than that: guidance to employers about what is expected of them is important, too.
I have spoken to workers about situations in which they were challenged or threatened by people who were shopping in their stores. Very often, they knew the people, because they lived in that community. When they spoke to their manager about the incidents, they were told, “Well, you haven’t got anyone to back it up. It wasn’t seen.” On one occasion a manager said, “We need the custom. It couldn’t have been that bad. Have a cup of tea, then get on with your job.” That attitude is not acceptable and we must address employers’ attitudes to this kind of behaviour. Obviously some shopkeepers and organisations are very good and thorough, and do operate a no-tolerance approach to attacks of whatever kind on their workers.
It seems that over the years, with the changes that there have been to work-life balance, shopworkers have become increasingly vulnerable. Some supermarkets are open 24 hours a day and people work at less reasonable times than I would hope they did. Staffing levels in supermarkets are lower at those times than they are during the day, which is perhaps understandable, but it makes the shopworkers who are there—sometimes a relatively small number of people in a very large store—more vulnerable, because they cannot always be seen and they are not always in direct contact with another member of staff. We must think about those workers.
As we have heard, black Friday is an import from the US that most of us would prefer not to have. I was very pleased to read today that Asda has decided not to participate in black Friday this year. As they are part of the Walmart group, which was responsible for introducing black Friday in the first place, that is perhaps quite ironic, but it is certainly welcome. The scenes that we saw last year and, to a lesser extent, the year before are unacceptable. Other members have talked about that, so I will not labour the point.
Christmas is meant to be a season of goodwill, but for shopworkers often it is not; often it is a time that they, quite frankly, dread. It is followed closely by the January sales, so shopworkers have a perfect storm that goes from the black Friday shopping phenomenon, through Christmas and into those sales. We need to ensure that they have every protection that we can give them.
I wish all shopworkers well at Christmas and I hope that they get the opportunity to enjoy at least some of the festive season with their families.
I give my thanks to Cara Hilton for securing this debate on what is an important annual campaign. It is important, for one thing, because of the number of workers that it encompasses. After all, Tesco and Asda are the two biggest private sector employers in the country nowadays.
Earlier this week, I spent some time in the Asda store at the Jewel, not far from here, and talked to staff about its apprenticeship programme. The store employs 500 colleagues, as they are called, and is a huge local employer.
The truth is that, as Patricia Ferguson pointed out, whether we are talking about supermarkets or small shops, we are demanding longer hours, perhaps even 24-hour shopping; wider product ranges; and the lowest of low prices. We want what we want when we want it. As a number of colleagues have said, that sort of attitude was seen at its worst in the scenes that we saw on television from last year’s black Friday. However, no matter whether it is that or a sole shop assistant in a small corner shop facing an aggressive attempt by an underage person to buy drink, all shopworkers are on the front line and deserve our support. Hugh Henry made it clear that such support should really be given in the form of stronger protection in law, and it is to our shame that on previous attempts, including Mr Henry’s own, we have unfortunately failed to do that.
In the absence of that legal protection, it is incumbent on us to show support by raising awareness and acknowledging the respect that should be shown to shopworkers. I was therefore pleased to join Colin Hunter, the USDAW shop steward, yesterday in my own local Tesco in Haddington on his stall promoting the freedom from fear campaign. Mr Hunter’s members provide great service to the community and do so with great patience. I say that from much personal experience; I live perhaps a couple of hundred yards from the store and visit it much more often than is good for my debit card. Even in my respectable and well-behaved home town of Haddington, staff at that store were able to tell me stories of the abuse and aggressive behaviour that they face on a day-to-day basis from some customers. This debate and this Parliament should send those shopworkers the strong message that they deserve our respect and, above all, freedom from fear as they go about their business.
I congratulate Cara Hilton on bringing to the chamber an issue that in the years that I have been in the Parliament has often been the subject of members’ business debates. This is an important and, I believe, often overlooked issue. Shopworkers are some of the country’s hardest-working people, and shop work itself is often low paid with long hours and high stress levels.
As Cara Hilton has said, Christmas is just around the corner but, although we will enjoy our recess period, many shopworkers across the UK will be required to work. I have to say that, along with Patricia Ferguson, I welcome Asda’s decision not to participate in this year’s black Friday, given the physical, verbal and other forms of abuse that many shopworkers have faced on previous black Fridays. On Christmas eve, Christmas day and boxing day and over the new year period, shopworkers are expected to be there, delivering services. Their work is very much underappreciated, and I hope that we can keep in mind the stress that they are under during that busy period.
I also congratulate USDAW on respect for shopworkers week. That excellent campaign has raised awareness of workers’ rights, has encouraged the reporting of assaults and has supported co-workers, all of which are vital aspects of creating a safe, fair and reasonable workplace. If we want to encourage people to find work, we must show them that work is worth doing, is respected and is safe.
The current rates of physical and verbal abuse of shopworkers are shocking. A couple of years ago, I visited a retail outlet as part of the challenge 25 campaign, and I saw at first hand the verbal abuse that was meted out to one shopworker who had decided to challenge a shopper’s age. We must send the clear message that, if shopworkers are expected to carry out what the Scottish Government wishes in the legislation that it introduces, they will be afforded the full protection of the law.
This issue applies to workers across the board. If we are to be serious about supporting workers—including shopworkers—and about respect at work, we must continue to fight for and provide workers' rights. We must work together in Parliament to ensure that all receive respect and dignity at work. Respect and dignity are rights, not privileges.
We see the need for this debate when we see the Conservative Government down south deciding to slash benefits and impoverish working families. Many of those working families rely on the retail sector for their employment.
There is also the announcement regarding the Trade Union Bill. That bill will strip workers of their rights to organise, to protest and to bargain collectively. The rights to organise and to collective action have a long strong tradition in Scotland and in the UK. The Trade Union Bill’s attempts to undermine that tradition are an insult to working people. Stripping unions of their rights and their ability to fairly, accurately and freely represent workers is an insult to the hardworking people of the UK.
If we are to urge society to show respect towards workers, the Government must lead by example. Respect for workers is vital to reduce abuse and provide a safe working environment for people across Scotland and the UK. I commend USDAW for its excellent campaign, and I wish its officers the best of success in their future work.
I also must emphasise again that respect for workers begins by facilitating the rights that all workers deserve. Providing a proper living wage without slashing benefits, providing strong and robust trade union rights, and encouraging workers to stand up for their rights—whether that be against employers or consumers—are the only ways to properly protect workers’ rights, safety and dignity.
I look forward to action by the Scottish Government, to send out a strong message that we will not tolerate abuse or physical violence in the workplace and will make every effort to stamp out such actions in the future. Every worker deserves dignity and respect at their workplace.
Like the other speakers, I congratulate Cara Hilton on bringing the motion forward for debate and on making an excellent contribution, which has set the tone for the debate that we have had.
It has been a very useful debate, not only to highlight the issues involved with shopworkers, who unfortunately face abuse and intimidation, but also because some very practical suggestions have been made. I will draw on those throughout my contribution, and I hope that the minister will take them up in his summing up.
It is right that USDAW should focus on the issue at this time of year. As Cara Hilton’s children pointed out, it is 42 sleeps until Christmas. As we embark on the run-in to Christmas, people rush to the shops and they often forget what is happening on the other side of the counter.
That is what the USDAW survey shows. The statistics are shocking. Nearly a third of people questioned have been threatened, and up to a half have been abused. It seems almost unimaginable that people would have to put up with that kind of behaviour in the workplace, but that is what is happening on the other side of the counter as people go about their Christmas shopping.
All of that is underlined by the black Friday experience, which other people have talked about. I spoke to the stewards in Rutherglen Tesco in my area. They endured an awful time last year, as customers fought over goods and abused the staff for not being able to get a particular kind of stock. That is totally unacceptable.
Although USDAW is to be congratulated on running this campaign regularly, it is a matter of concern that assaults are on the increase. That leads to the question that a lot of people have touched on: what are we going to do about it? Warm words are fine, but what actions can we take? The collection of statistics is important, and the minister can consider that. If we want to understand the extent of the problem and do something about it, it is important that we have accurate statistics.
There is a responsibility on retailers. It is welcome that they have listened to police advice and that there will be more retail security on black Friday, but that should not apply on just one day of the year; it should apply throughout the year, so that workers are properly protected.
I support Murdo Fraser’s suggestion of a public information campaign. If the Government really got behind that, it would raise awareness not only of the issue but of the fact that abuse and intimidation of shopworkers is totally unacceptable. There is also an onus on the Government to look at legislation in the area. It is all very well to have these debates and for members to make fine speeches, but we come to the Parliament to make a difference and there is an opportunity here to make life and work a bit safer for many of our constituents.
I congratulate Cara Hilton on securing the debate. There have been many fine speeches and sentiments, and I hope that the minister, in his summing up, is able to give some assurances as to how the Government will take forward some of the suggestions that have been made in the debate.
I thank Cara Hilton for bringing the debate to the chamber. It is on a matter of profound importance, and she made an excellent speech. We all have constituents who are affected by these problems and who work in a sector that we often take for granted. A number of members, not least Cara Hilton, have reflected on that and have commented on the fact that most workers in the sector are low paid and work long, difficult hours—sometimes 24 hours a day, as Iain Gray said when he spoke about the shops in East Lothian. We must all reflect on that, as a society and within the Parliament.
The Scottish Government believes that we all have a right to live our lives free from crime and the fear of crime. I welcome USDAW’s contribution to the debate through campaigns such as the freedom from fear campaign. I would encourage all shoppers to show respect for shopworkers this week and, as James Kelly said, all year round. There is no doubt that every violent incident is a traumatic event for the victim and can result in injury and on-going psychological problems that can result in their fearing to go to work. As USDAW’s survey shows, the front line of retail can be particularly tough for many shopworkers, especially during incidents such as last year’s black Friday, which Iain Gray and others have referred to.
Without retail sector workers serving the needs of members of the public, our communities would not be able to function effectively. That is why it is important that, when such workers are attacked in the course of their work, our justice system responds effectively and sends the strong signal that we do not tolerate such behaviour. I am concerned to hear about some of the examples that Cara Hilton cited. I am not going to brush over them—I am happy to look at what went wrong in those examples. Nevertheless, our police, prosecutors and courts have extensive powers to deal with those who commit such offences against shop workers and other public-facing workers. For example, the common law of assault allows for penalties all the way up to life imprisonment for the most serious offences.
I acknowledge the cases that have been raised, but prosecutors in Scotland always seek to ensure that justice is served when offences are committed against workers. They take a robust approach to prosecuting and will always mark cases for prosecution in such a way that appropriate sentences can be handed out by courts on conviction. Courts will look at the circumstances of an offence and base the sentence on, among other matters, the context within which the offence was committed. I reiterate that our justice system is sending out the strong message to those who fail to respect public-facing workers and the valuable service that they provide that unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated.
Let us not forget that retail workers are often not well paid and may be doing a very tiring job for only modest rewards. Along with ensuring an effective response from the justice system, we have focused on tackling the underlying causes of such violence and are seeing major reductions in the number of such incidents as a result. In general, Scotland is becoming a safer place in which to live, but I note that this group of people in this sector of the economy still feel that they are vulnerable to assault.
I am aware that the statistics that I could quote would be of little comfort to any individual who has experienced violence, whether or not they are a shopworker. However, a number of members—including Rod Campbell, Patricia Ferguson, Cara Hilton and James Kelly—raised the issue of statistics. The content of the Scottish crime and justice survey is reviewed regularly to ensure that the survey continues to provide high-quality evidence on a wide range of policy areas in a cost-effective way. Such questionnaire reviews also ensure that the survey is kept to a manageable length, so we do not place an excessive time burden on responses. Having said that, the SCJS is under review in advance of the 2016-17 survey. I will ensure that the points that have been raised today about workplace crimes are taken on board, and I will see whether there is any scope to enhance the data in that respect.
High-profile tragedies can and do occur. As has been tragically demonstrated, violence can have a devastating impact and extend far beyond the victims or, indeed, the perpetrators; it can involve their families and friends and can impact on the community as a whole.
We are going in the right direction in tackling violent crime, but I acknowledge the concerns that have been raised across the chamber. We will take those on board.
We need to consider whether there are ways in which we can enhance our activity. Along with increased policing, we know that tackling the underlying causes of violence will help to reduce the number of assaults. Rod Campbell’s observation about black Friday in Richmond shows that such violence emanates from the whole spectrum of society. It is typical for the finger of blame to be pointed at one part of the community, but when people carrying Gucci handbags are assaulting staff in shops that affects everyone. We all have a responsibility to look to our behaviour.
We continue to work in partnership with the national violence reduction unit, because violence is preventable, not inevitable. The unit’s groundbreaking work helps us to identify, develop, promote and co-ordinate best practice in tackling violence and violent crime.
I have heard moving and highly compelling testimony from those involved in workplace crimes about their regret in perpetrating such crimes, and they are putting their experience back into the system.
In his discussions with the national violence reduction unit, would it be possible for the minister to consult and bring on board the unions? USDAW has highlighted the figures that suggest that there is a serious issue out there that must be addressed. It might be useful to bring the unions into the debate so that they can give a clear indication of what should be happening.
I am happy to take on board that point. It is important that we engage with the trade unions on these issues. I will see how we can involve them in the discussions around this specific issue.
Rod Campbell talked about education. We continue to invest in the no knives, better lives campaign, which he mentioned, medics against violence and mentors in violence prevention. Those important programmes try to get important messages out, particularly to young people, on the dangers and consequences of getting involved in violence, and to provide them with opportunities.
The point about the older age group in the Richmond incident was interesting. As other members said, it is not just young people who are involved.
Perhaps Ms Ferguson will intervene later.
It is important that we encourage young people to talk about violence prevention and about difficult subjects such as their relationship with alcohol and drugs. We must also encourage them to speak out against all forms of violence and, in the specific context of the debate, the violent behaviour that public-facing workers face.
The initiatives that I mentioned focus on young people learning that any form of abuse or violence will not be tolerated. However, I take the point about public awareness and the need to reach out to other parts of society. The mentors in violence prevention programme is running in nine local authorities and a further four have started engagement.
I am conscious of the time so, rather than talk about our significant investment in all areas, I will focus on the issue of employers, which was mentioned by Margaret McCulloch, Rod Campbell, Murdo Fraser and Patricia Ferguson. We are investing through the Scottish Business Resilience Centre and working in partnership with it to raise awareness by producing a number of publications, including the “Violence in the workplace” guide, which Rod Campbell mentioned, “Working with an SME” and the “Retailers Guide to Crime Prevention”, which provide in-depth advice to employers and staff on how to identify and defuse trigger situations and behaviours that may result in aggression, physical violence or abuse.
I welcome Asda’s decision to reflect on what happened last year, as a number of members have mentioned, and to withdraw from having its own black Friday event. That is a commercial decision, but I welcome the fact that it is thinking about the impact on its workers.
A wide-ranging retail crime reduction presentation, which has been created by the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, is available to all police officers across Scotland who engage with shop and retail staff, thus ensuring consistency of approach and messaging. The SBRC also provides excellent support through initiatives such as best bar none, the safer shopping award, the safer retail award and the safer area scheme. The Scottish Government supports those and many other initiatives, which are inspiring some great working practice.
No one could disagree that shopworkers deserve protection. That is what our current criminal laws help to ensure. I welcome the opportunity to discuss Cara Hilton’s motion and thank her again for bringing this important subject to the chamber. As has been said, there is increased pressure on shopworkers with increased sales in the run-up to Christmas. Although tempers may be short, there is simply no excuse for any act of aggression or violence towards shopworkers, many of whom will be working long hours. That includes workers who do home deliveries, which is a new phenomenon that, as Patricia Ferguson said, reflects changes in behaviour.
Our approach is broadly right and our firm focus on increased policing and prevention is already providing results and helping to reduce violent crime for everyone. However, I take on board the important points that members have made. I stress that respect costs nothing and that the least that we should do as we shop at Christmas is show respect to our shopworkers.