New laws have been passed aimed at improving protection for shop workers, with the MSP behind the legislation insisting that “enough is enough”.
Labour’s Daniel Johnson said attacks and abuse of retail staff had increased since the coronavirus pandemic began.
According to the trade union Usdaw, an average of 15 shop staff are assaulted every day in Scotland.
The union is now urging the UK Government to introduce similar legislation to protect retail staff in England.
Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “The Scottish Parliament is leading the way on protection of shop workers by passing this Bill.
“It is a great result for our members in Scotland, who will now have the protection of the law that they deserve. We are grateful to Daniel Johnson for steering this important legislation through the Parliament.
“We have been deeply disappointed with the UK Government’s response to our campaign, offering little more than sympathy and their objecting to protection of shop workers legislation.
“So we are looking for MPs to support key workers across the retail sector and help turn around the UK Government’s opposition.”
That message was echoed by Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, who said that “Scotland has led the way in giving retail workers the legal protection and recognition they deserve, and they have sent a clear message that the rise in abuse and violence must end”.
She added: “Retail colleagues will be protected in Dumfries, but not in Carlisle – why can’t this legislation be replicated in the rest of the UK?”
The calls for action across the UK came after Mr Johnson said his Bill, which was passed by 118 votes to zero, showed how seriously such incidents would now be taken.
The Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill will now make it a new specific offence to assault,
abuse or threaten retail staff.
And if this takes place when someone is trying to buy an age-restricted product, such as alcohol or cigarettes, that would be an aggravating factor, and the offence could be treated more seriously.
Mr Johnson said that retail staff were personally liable for upholding the law on the sale of age-related items, telling MSPs that failure to ask for proof of age can result in fines or imprisonment for them.
But he added: “It is a sad fact that the denial of sale resulting from proof of age is the biggest single trigger factor to these dreadful incidents, or it was until Covid and the enforcement of social distancing overtook it.”
Mr Johnson: “Shop staff have been spat at for asking customers to socially distance, and stock has been deliberately smashed in retaliation for item limits being imposed.”
He told Holyrood how “countless” shop workers had told him “abuse is now just seen as part of the job, something each worker is expected to handle every single day”.
But he insisted: “Violence, threats and abuse should not be and never be just part of anyone’s job.
“Let’s make this Bill the first step in saying enough is enough, these acts of violence must end and when shop workers do their job, keeping us safe, upholding the law, they will have the fullest possible protection of the law. That is what my Bill seeks to deliver.”
He added that the legislation would also cover those working in bars, restaurants and hotels, and those delivering items bought online who may have to ask for proof of age when items are delivered.
Speaking about the legislation, he said: “It will act as a clear signal as to the seriousness with which these crimes will be taken.”
The Bill as was passed by MSPs after winning the support of the Scottish Government.
Community safety minister Ash Denham said: “At all times but especially at the moment, workers in retail roles should feel safe, supported and protected by our criminal laws.
“Although they are currently protected by a wide range of existing criminal laws, many have not felt safe or protected when exposed to verbal abuse, threatening and abusive behaviour and physical attacks.
“There is no excuse for such behaviour and criminal laws do have a key role to play.”
She said the Government fully supported “robust enforcement action to deal with any attacks and threats made against retail workers”.
The minister said: “I hope this Bill, when passed, will make the general public think more about their behaviour while interacting with retail workers especially in such difficult and challenging times.”