Grahame Morris MP with Paddy Lillis, General Secretary of Usdaw, at an event in Parliament in March
Grahame Morris MP with Paddy Lillis, General Secretary of Usdaw, at an event in Parliament in March

Grahame Morris MP is supporting a campaign by shop workers union Usdaw and convenience store giant Co-op, warning of a store crime epidemic unless the Government urgently introduces new legislation to provide staff with greater protection.

Concerns for the physical and mental wellbeing of retail staff continues to grow in the face of the Government’s failure to act, one year after its call for evidence on violence against shop staff closed on 28th June 2019.

Alex Norris MP’s ‘Assaults on Retail Workers’ Bill has seen its second reading in Parliament postponed. It states that, because shop workers have responsibilities to uphold the law on age restricted products, they should be afforded greater protection in carrying out those public duties.

Grahame Morris MP said, “It is appalling that violence and abuse against shop workers is on the rise, especially given their invaluable contribution during the coronavirus pandemic. As a co-sponsor of Mr Norris’s Bill, I urge the Government to prioritise this legislation. It is vital that we ensure that shop workers have the protection that they need.”

The Co-op has seen store crime increase by more than 140% in the year to May, despite communities recognising the critical role played by key workers during the pandemic. Numbers of violent incidents have also hit record levels, with 1,350 attacks having been reported by mid-June.

Usdaw General Secretary Paddy Lillis said: “At a time when we should all be working together to get through this crisis, it is a disgrace that people working to keep food on the shelves for their local communities are being abused and assaulted. Urgent action is required. Our message is clear, abuse is not part of the job.

“We want the Government to legislate for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers; a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.

“Co-op stores are the cornerstone of our communities, but they can only operate with staff, who clearly do not have the option to work from home. We continue to work with the Co-op to improve health and safety for staff and we also call on customers to stay calm and respect shopworkers.”

New figures have seen assaults jump by 100%, threats and intimidation by 25% and verbal abuse by 175% since the start of the year, and since the lockdown was introduced, there have been over 100 incidents related directly to people using COVID-19 as a threat. Some examples of incidents have included multiple threats by customers to cough on colleagues and ‘give them Coronavirus’ and further threats of assaults because people have had to queue to enter stores, social distance or simply because they do not have a specific product.

Debbie Robinson, Central England Co-op Chief Executive, said: “These uncertain times have brought to the fore how our colleagues in stores are key workers and critical to all of our everyday lives.

“However, despite this, we continue to see rise upon rise of incidents where our colleagues are verbally threatened or even worse physically abused just for doing the job – something that has only risen during the Coronavirus outbreak.

“Today we tell people this is not acceptable, and we will not tolerate any kind of abuse to our colleagues and we also urge the Government to work harder to recognise the people itself has recognised as being of vital importance to our daily lives.

“Their amazing contribution now needs to be recognised by a change in law so anyone who takes the decision to cross the line with our colleagues knows that retail crime is taken seriously.

“I would hope their status in society will now be permanently elevated and I am redoubling my efforts in lobbying for a change in sentencing law to ensure those who choose to attack our colleagues are held accountable for their actions on the same level as other frontline workers.

“This is not just a Central England Co-op problem, it is an industry-wide problem, and this is why we come together today to say we need change and we need it now.”

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