Acting to stop the abusive criminals

Support for retail workers facing threats and violence

Daniel Johnson MSP worked to bring the bill into power in Scotland in 2021.
Daniel Johnson MSP worked to bring the bill into power in Scotland in 2021.

RETAIL crime remains a blight across the industry, leaving store owners and their colleagues constantly at risk from abusive customers.

While the introduction of The Protection of Workers Scotland Act provided some much needed action to crack down on the unacceptable behaviour and provide justice through the courts, there is still an undisputed risk to retail staff across the country.

Daniel Johnson MSP formally lodged the bill in the Scottish parliament in 2019, with it being introduced as an act in 2021.

Since then, Police Scotland has revealed to Scottish Grocer that the legislation has been used on 4,408 occasions up to 31 January this year, displaying the necessity of such an act.

While it is clear that retailers are now more aware of the options available to them when they become a victim of crime, there still remains an issue around crime prevention.

Johnson said: “The Protection of Workers Act has made a difference to retailer workers across Scotland – however, it could go further.

“I think there is an increased awareness of what options are available to them when they are subject to being victims of retail crime, but more could be done, and this needs to be led by the Scottish Government.”

Maxine Fraser, managing director at Retailers Against Crime, echoed the sentiment that, while the act has certainly provided extra support for retailers, there needs to be more work in deterrence.

She said: “The introduction of the Protection of Workers Act has been an important step forward in highlighting the level of violence and abuse affecting retail workers in Scotland.

However, it has not had the impact that was hoped for.

“We also need the support of government to fund a relaunch campaign and raise awareness across the wider population – so that this type of offence becomes socially unacceptable.”

Demand for more action has been called for on the frontlines of retail as well, right down to the shop floor.

Glasgow store owner Jaz Singh reached out to Scottish Grocer over concerns about abuse his staff members were facing from customers at his ShopLocal store on Hyndland Road.

Singh noted that customers often come into his shop directing abuse to the staff members and, at times, talking down to them.

Store manager Angus Rae discussed the abuse that colleagues have faced.

He said: “We’ve had a few customers who have been quite aggressive with us and get annoyed over things like parcels. Or, sometimes, if you don’t serve them alcohol when they’ve had a bit too much to drink then they can get a bit aggressive.

“Since the pandemic, I do think that, on the whole, people realise more that we’re not just faces behind a till and we are providing a service for them – and employers recognise that we really shouldn’t have to put up with people being abusive.”

As such, Singh reached out to Scottish Grocer aiming to reduce the abuse his staff members were subject to by using some kind of deterrent.

Following this, the team at Scottish Grocer came together in a bid to support members across the industry to produce an anti-abuse poster which can be displayed at a store front.

It is our hope this will help to act as a deterrent against abusive customers and raise awareness that retailers should not have to put up with any mistreatment.

Among the poster sponsors is retail tech provider MHouse. Chief operating officer Faisal Sattar said: “Crime in our sector is a sad affair.

“Many retailers and their staff are providing a vital service to communities and they should not be a target of crime. I strongly recommend the use of technology to try to prevent, monitor and discourage this taking place.”

Pete Cheema, chief executive of the Scottish Grocers Federation, told us: “Every incident is one too many, and shop workers across Scotland are still experiencing unacceptable levels of crime.

“Until there is significant improvement to the figures we are seeing, the SGF will be calling for a zero-tolerance approach.”