Holyrood passes shopworker protection law

Daniel Johnson

The Scottish Parliament has today (19 January 2021) voted to make it a specific offence to assault a shopworker.

The Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill creates a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker and provide further legal protections when the worker is carrying out their statutory duties around age restricted sales.

The Bill will now be submitted for Royal Assent in the coming weeks and is expected to become law around six months after that.

Its passing marks a significant victory in the fight against in-store violence and couldn’t come at a better time; according to a survey conducted by shopworkers’ union Usdaw, incidents of abuse, threats and violence against shop staff have doubled during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Bill was proposed by Daniel Johnson (pictured), MSP for Edinburgh Southern, in 2018. Johnson, who has a background in retail, argued that since shopworkers must uphold the law regarding the sale of age-related products they should therefore have specific legal protection while performing this obligation. Refusal of sale is one of the main triggers for abuse and assault of staff.

Johnson said he was “delighted” to see his Bill pass all the legislative hurdles to become law and have retail workers properly protected.

He said: “For too long, violence and abuse were seen as part of the job for shopworkers but having worked with the Scottish Grocers Federation and other stakeholders across the country these past years, we have all challenged that assumption and provided workers with the protection of the law they deserve.”

Johnson has worked with SGF since 2016 to call for additional protections for shopworkers: “I would like to commend the hard work of the SGF, who were there at the beginning of this process, and I look forward to promoting this change in the law with them and keeping our hardworking retail workers safe.”

SGF welcomed the news. Chief Executive Pete Cheema said: “Once the Bill receives Royal Assent we will at last have key protections in place for shop workers who will benefit from a safer in-store environment and will also provide them with confidence when carrying out their work. Today’s vote represents a key step change in terms of Scotland’s approach to retail crime.”

The new legislation will hopefully give a push to similar reforms south of the border where, in the words of Crime Minister Kit Malthouse, the UK Government doesn’t “yet” see a case for a specific offence of assaulting a shopworker.

Malthouse’s comments flew in the face of public opinion, coming at a time when an Usdaw parliamentary petition calling for such a law had been signed over 90,000 times. Shortly thereafter, the petition garnered the 100,000 signatures necessary to trigger a debate in the House of Commons.