The shopworkers’ trade union leader John Hannett has called on MPs to sign an Early Day Motion tabled by Ann Coffey MP, which calls for greater protection for workers who serve the public.

John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary says: “Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear Campaign seeks to prevent violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers and we are looking to work with employers, the police and government to better protect our members and all workers. So we are grateful to Ann Coffey for tabling this motion, which calls for an additional offence to be created for those who assault workers in the course of their duties.

Our members provide a valuable service to the public, it would be hard to imagine a community that doesn’t have shops. Often, in the course of their duties, shopworkers are expected to enforce the law, whether that is preventing under-age purchases or detaining shoplifters until the police arrive, they can be put in real danger. There is already an additional offence for assaulting a police officer, which was extended to all emergency service workers in Scotland and we are making the case for that protection to apply to all workers who serve the public. We are aware that assaulting a worker is already an aggravating factor in existing sentencing guidelines, but we are concerned that is not well known amongst the public and not being applied in the courts. Creating an additional offence will lead to stiffer sentences and send a clear message that assaulting workers in totally unacceptable.”

Ann Coffey – Labour MP for Stockport says: “Many workers put themselves in danger in order to provide us with a public service and I think it is incumbent upon us to provide the maximum protection and a real deterrent to those who might assault them. Shopworkers can find themselves in pretty isolated situations when staffing a store, surrounded by high value goods and cash in the till. That is not something we, as ordinary members of the public, would choose to do, but they have to because it is their job and they are providing a valuable service. So I want the Government to introduce stiffer penalties than are currently being meted out in our courts for those who assault workers.”

Early Day Motion 529 – Protection of Workers Serving the Public: That this House is appalled at levels of violence suffered by workers who deal with the public, as evidenced in the 2013 survey from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which showed that four per cent of shopworkers had been physically attacked in the previous 12 months and 35 per cent had been threatened with violence, and at the traumatising effects of these incidents for staff who have to face the continual possibility of attack or abuse throughout their working day as they are on the frontline of dealing with the public; is concerned at the paltry level of sentences meted out to offenders, often with a suspended sentence or with no custodial element; and calls on the Government to introduce a specific offence of assaulting a worker who is serving the public in order to ensure that victims of such violence are given the justice they deserve and to provide a deterrent.

Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear Survey Report 2013, the interim results of shopworkers experiences over the last year, from the first 1,844 responses, are:

  • Victims of verbal abuse:     49%
  • Shopworkers threatened:   35%
  • Violent assaults:                   4%

Of these incidents the following didn’t report it to their manager:

  • Abuse            46%
  • Threats          33%
  • Violence        17%

Respect for Shopworker Week 2013 takes place on 11 – 15 November. It is an annual event where shopworkers talk to the public about the problems of violence threats and abuse, asking customers to ‘keep their cool’. Part of the campaign will be encouraging shopworker not to take abuse as part of the job and report incidents to their manager.