Police on duty

A Bill aimed at offering more protection to retail staff has taken a massive step forward in Scotland.

The Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill passed a Stage 1 vote in Scottish Parliament.

The Member’s Bill was introduced by Daniel Johnson MSP for Edinburgh Southern with the aim of giving greater protection in law to retail workers, particularly where they are providing goods and services that are age restricted.

The Bill applies to retail workers while they are doing their jobs (for example, in shops, bars and restaurants). It makes it a specific, new criminal offence to assault, threaten or abuse and obstruct or hinder them.

If the offence was committed because the worker was applying an age-restriction (for example, asking for proof of age from someone trying to buy alcohol), this would count as an ‘aggravation’ which could potentially make the offence more serious.

There will be two more legislative stages before the Bill can be made law.

Speaking after the successful passing of Stage 1, Johnson, said: “I’m delighted to see my bill pass the first hurdle in the legislative process and it was encouraging to see all parties get behind this important issue. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank SGF, who have supported this from day one.”

“With further COVID restrictions just announced for the country, we will see more pressure on our retail staff, especially with an uncertain Christmas on the horizon.”

“I look forward to working with other political parties and key stakeholders to ensure it passes the remaining parliamentary stages and becomes law, in order to afford retail workers the protection they deserve under the law.”

The announcement was welcomed by the Scottish Grocers Federation. CEO Dr Pete Cheema said: “We are delighted that MSPs have voted to accept the general principles of the Protection of Workers Bill. This is a significant step forward in the right direction and it is crucial that we continue to get the message across to our politicians that abuse and threatening behaviour towards shop staff is unacceptable and that suitable additional legal protections must be put in place. Daniel Johnson’s Bill provides that opportunity and we will continue to work with him – as we have been doing since 2016 - to secure a step-change in Scotland’s approach to retail crime.”

Usdaw’s Scottish Divisional Officer Stewart Forrest also praised the progress made. “We are delighted that MSPs have recognised that retail workers are subjected to unacceptable violence, threats and aggression every working day.

“Throughout the coronavirus emergency shop workers are ensuring that Scotland remains fed. Retail staff are at an increased risk of contracting Covid-19, yet they have continued to go to work and help respond to the crisis. Despite this, we have seen abuse, threats and violence against shop staff double this year.

“However abuse of shop workers is a problem in more normal times and, in our view, the current legal provisions do not sufficiently protect them. The Scottish Parliament’s support for the intentions of the Bill is welcome and we hope MSPs will continue to back it through the remaining stages.”

This comes as a USDAW petition urging similar measures was shot down by the UK government despite gaining more than 60,000 signatures. The workers’ union hopes to reach 100,000 signatures so it can be considered for debate in Parliament.