Alex Norris: We owe it to shop workers to ensure they are protected
Violent attacks on retail workers are on the increase. The law must offer them stronger protection, says Alex Norris
On Tuesday 9th October, I will be speaking in the House of Commons chamber to make the case for attacks on retail workers while doing their jobs to be treated as aggravated assaults and therefore be subject to higher prison sentence. I hope this will be the start of campaign that will lead to real change for shop workers.
Change that is urgently needed. According to the shop workers union USDAW, the number of assaults and threats made by customers against shop workers sharply increased in 2017, after five years of steady decline; and the terrifying experience of being violently attacked simply for doing your job now affects 265 shop workers every day.
USDAW also found that in 2017 two thirds of retail staff were verbally abused by customers, up from half in 2016. More than four out of ten had been threatened with violence, up from less than 30 per cent the year before. Four per cent of shop workers surveyed said they had been physically assaulted by customers in 2017, the highest figure since 2012.
Just last month, my Labour colleague Chris Bryant MP saw his Private Members Bill, the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, receive Royal Assent and become law. This Bill changed the law so that assaults against emergency workers doing their jobs would also be treated as aggravated, and the maximum prison term for people found guilty would increase similarly.
I fully supported this Bill during its passage through Parliament and was pleased that colleagues from all parties agreed. Of course, it’s easy to see why Chris’s bill gained government and public backing. Who could possibly argue against better protection for police officers, for paramedics, for firefighters, for prison officers, for search and rescue personnel or for custody officers? All these brave people go to work and risk their lives to provide services we couldn’t manage without. And rightly so, they should be protected, and deserve the extra protection this new legislation affords them.
While I strongly believe that anyone assaulted while doing their job should be afforded additional protections by the law, what it is that sets retail workers apart – like the very nature of the job sets emergency workers apart – is that they have been entrusted with an important civic responsibility that goes beyond the duties and responsibilities that any employer would give an employee. Over many years and many laws, shop workers have been made responsible, by Parliament, for effectively policing the law on the sale of alcohol, knives, glue and now acid on behalf of us all.
Sad to say it is almost inevitable that these items will attract trouble, but enforcing the laws surrounding them is an important job that must be done. It is Parliament that has given retail workers this responsibility, so I believe Parliament should be providing them with appropriate protection. Currently I am not sure we have this balance right. Indeed, the surveys show that 80% of shop workers think a new law is needed.
The Co-operative Party and its 37 Labour & Co-op MPs are proud to be working with Usdaw to call on Parliament to legislate for better protection for shop workers. That means taking forward the proposals in my Bill but also adopting an amendment by David Hanson MP to the Offensive Weapons Bill, due to be debated on 15 October.
I am looking forward to standing up in the House of Commons and making this case, and hope that my colleagues from all parties will show the same gratitude to our retail workers for accepting and carrying out this public duty. Let us do our part by granting them the protection they deserve.
Alex Norris is the Labour & Co-operative MP for Nottingham North. His Ten Minute Rule Motion is on Tuesday 9th October