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As many of us hunkered down during the pandemic, working from home or placed on furlough, our key workers ensured we continued to have access to life’s necessities.

Working on the frontline during the pandemic is not easy, and last week Westminster focussed on some of the issues faced by retail staff. Some 106,000 people signed a petition calling on the UK Government to enact legislation to protect retail workers from abuse, threats and violence and I was pleased to speak in the debate.

As a student and young teacher, I worked in a betting shop for eight years myself, so I understand this from personal experience. While most people are polite and reasonable, it only takes one incident of abuse or violence to leave someone feeling distressed, afraid, shaken and threatened as they go about their job.

The Scottish Parliament has already passed legislation, coming into force in August, which creates a specific offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing retail workers. This provides a statutory aggravation of that offence where the retail worker is enforcing a statutory age restriction, such as when alcohol is sold.

I absolutely appreciate the value of that protection and know that other workers delivering age-restricted services will too.

In addition, the Scottish National Party (SNP) Government has launched a new awareness-raising campaign, delivered by Crimestoppers, and the Scottish Grocers' Federation (SGF), highlighting the impact of abuse, threats and violence on retail staff.

A recent British Retail Consortium (BRC) survey showed that a staggering 455 incidents of abuse and violence are directed towards retail workers every single day, while the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers revealed that abusive incidents towards shop workers have doubled since the outbreak of COVID-19. Survey respondents reported being spat, coughed and sneezed at when asking customers to practise social distancing. One in six workers reported being abused on every single shift.

In the first three months of this year, there were almost 400 incidents where weapons have been used against shop workers in Co-op stores, and more than half of those involved sharp implements such as syringes, knives or bottles.

Retail workers try to ensure that customers comply with safety measures on their premises by requesting identification when age-restricted products are sought by customers. Staff also have to confront shoplifters.

Working in a shop can be demanding and staff rarely get the credit or pay they deserve. Retail employeees should not have to face intimidation, abuse or violence at work.

Despite clear evidence showing increasing violence and abuse against retail workers, time and again the UK Tory Government has refused to act.

The BRC and 65 retail chief executives have called on the UK Government to follow Scotland’s lead and introduce similar measures in England. I have urged UK Ministers to study our legislation closely.

Our retail workers served us well throughout the pandemic, as they always have. They deserve our support and thanks. It’s time UK Government caught up with Scotland and brought in legislation down south to protect them.


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