Usdaw disappointed by government complacency over assaults on shopworkers

by - 19th October 2013, 8.15 BST

USDAW-standThe Usdaw leader has warned that an increase in shopflifting means the government must not be complacent about the problems of violence, threats and abuse against retail workers.

It comes after MPs rejected a Labour amendment to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which would have introduced a specific offence of assaulting a worker serving the public.

The amendment would have extended existing protections for police officers and emergency service workers in Scotland to all workers serving the public, by making the assault of a worker serving the public an offence in its own right.

Current sentencing guidelines mean assaulting a worker can be deemed an aggravating factor, but critics are concerned this is not being applied when decisions are made about prosecutions and sentencing.

John Hannett, Usdaw general secretary said: “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.

“So it is always a real concern to our members when incidents of shoplifting are on the increase, because too often that can result in the shopworkers being assaulted by the thief.

“I was very disappointed to see Tory and Liberal MPs combining to block Labour’s amendment to provide for stiffer sentences for those who assault workers serving the public.

“There is a real need to address the scourge of violence against workers and I am concerned that the attackers are getting away with relatively lenient sentences.

The union cites recent court cases, such as that of a Sunderland man, who had just received a community order for assault, went out to celebrate his ‘lenient’ sentence and launched a racist attack on a woman shopworker, but walked free from court again.

Officials say other cases, where the perpetrators of assaults are not prosecuted leave victims feeling that no one cares about them.

The latest Crime Survey for England and Wales, produced by the Office for National Statistics, showed an increase of 1% in shoplifting.

Said John Hannet: “I will continue to campaign with Usdaw for a change in the law to ensure that proper punishments are given out and to give a clear message that assaulting workers who are serving the public is totally unacceptable.”