Retail crime bill secures committee backing

Daniel Johnson MSP (second from right) launched his retail crime bill campaign in 2018.

A CAMPAIGN to provide shopworkers with more protection under the law has taken a major step forward.

MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work committee have unanimously backed the ‘Protection of Workers’ bill, which would create a new offence of assaulting a retail worker.

The committee’s backing means the bill, which was brought forward by Scottish Labour MSP Daniel Johnson, can move forward to Stage 2. MSPs will now scrutinise the bill line-by-line.

Johnson secured the committee’s backing after making his case at evidence sessions held virtually in May. The Edinburgh Southern MSP, along with representatives from industry and trade unions, has argued that retail workers should be given additional legal protections as they are often subjected to violence and abuse while upholding the law.

Carrying out statutory duties often puts retail workers at additional risk, with a recent survey conducted on behalf of the Scottish Grocers Federation revealing that requests for identification in relation to age restricted products and refusal of sale are the main triggers for abuse and assault towards shop staff.

Committee approval for the bill follows a long campaign led by Johnson, trade groups and unions. Johnson first launched the consultation for his retail crime bill in January 2018.

SGF chief executive Pete Cheema welcomed the committee’s support for the bill.

“This is a positive result and it marks a step forward in securing a safer in-store environment for shop staff. Daniel [Johnson] has shown outstanding tenacity and commitment in taking this forward.

“However, we cannot allow complacency to derail this once in a generation opportunity: much work needs to be done in securing the support of MSPs when they vote on the bill. With the help of our all members we know that this can be achieved.”

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy at the Scottish Retail Consortium, described the committee’s decision as a “very positive step.”

“Retail workers have played a vital role in keeping Scotland fed and supplied during the last few months.

“During that time, they have had to take on new legal duties, such as managing physical distancing in stores, along with the myriad of existing responsibilities.

“That has increased the pressure on those workers to enforce legislation on customers, creating further conflict and flashpoints which have led to workers being abused. That is always unacceptable and reaffirms the urgent case for legislation to protect shopworkers,” he said.

Economy, energy and fair work committee convenor Michelle Ballantyne MSP said: “Retail workers have always played a key role in Scotland’s communities; however, the role that they have played over the last few months has been phenomenal. More than 375,000 people in Scotland work in the retail sector and all of them deserve our thanks. They have been at the heart of members’ consideration of this bill.

“The abuse that retail workers face every day just for doing their jobs is completely unacceptable. Each incident is one too many and the Committee welcomes the bill’s aim to provide greater protection, especially where retail workers are enforcing age restrictions. Abuse must be taken seriously and crimes must be reported to ensure that these matters are given the priority they deserve.”