New legislation protects Scottish shop staff from customer abuse

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New legislation has been passed to protect Scottish shop workers from abuse from customers.

The Protection of Workers Bill will make it a new specific offence to assault, abuse or threaten staff.

Incidents involving an age-restricted product, such as alcohol or cigarettes, could be treated more seriously.

The MSP behind the bill, Labour's Daniel Johnson, said attacks on retail workers had increased during the Covid pandemic.

He told Holyrood: "Shop staff have been spat at for asking customers to socially distance, and stock has been smashed in retaliation for item limits being imposed.

"Violence, threats and abuse should not be just part of anyone's job."

Mr Johnson said that staff requesting age ID could be a "trigger factor" in many incidents of abuse.

The new legislation will also cover people working in bars, restaurants and hotels, and those delivering items bought online who may have to ask for proof of age.

The bill was supported by all parties at Holyrood, despite the government initially arguing that its provisions were already covered by existing criminal laws.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service told MSPs that further legislation was not needed, noting that "violence, threats and abuse against retail workers, or indeed any other person, are prosecuted every day in the courts in Scotland using offences which are commonly understood".

Police Scotland meanwhile said there would be "no significant change in how we go about our business" as a result of it.

Community safety minister Ash Denham said that while there was a "wide range of existing criminal laws" currently in place to protect staff, the new legislation could "make the general public think more about their behaviour when they interact with retail workers".

The Scottish Conservatives also backed the bill, although they argued that the presumption against short sentences in Scotland meant anyone convicted under the new law would ultimately not be jailed.

'Huge problem'

Paul Gerrard, public affairs director for the Co-Op, told BBC Radio Scotland's Drivetime that the retailer had seen a 450% rise in violent incidents in the last few years.

"It is a huge problem," he said. "We've seen an explosion in violence and abuse toward my colleagues.

"Now across 350 stores in Scotland we have someone attacked every day. And 10 colleagues are threatened or abused every day.

"Increasingly we have seen knives, syringes and axes all used against shopworkers."

Mr Gerrard added that previous incidents were centred on shoplifting or age-restricted sales, but staff were now facing more abuse around enforcing Covid shopping rules.

The new legislation was passed by 118 votes to 0 in the Scottish Parliament.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) is now urging the UK government to introduce similar legislation to protect retail staff in England - something Labour MP Alex Norris is pursuing at Westminster.

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: "It is a great result for our members in Scotland, who will now have the protection of the law that they deserve.

"So we are looking for MPs to support key workers across the retail sector and help turn around the UK government's opposition."