Source: Co-op

It comes at a time when serial offenders are wreaking havoc on the retail sector

Usdaw has slammed Tory ministers for failing to keep their promise to create a standalone offence for assaulting a shopworker.

The government tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill earlier this year, which would have brought tougher penalties for those who attack shopworkers going about their job. It would have acted similarly to the Protection of Workers Act in Scotland, which was delivered by Labour MSP Daniel Johnson.

However, the calling of a general election last week means any legislation yet to be fully scrutinised will not become law unless it is passed in the so-called ‘wash-up’. This is the period when government decides what bills should be prioritised or sacrificed before parliament is prorogued ahead of its dissolution on Thursday 30 May.

As well as other draft legislation including the Tobacco & Vapes Bill – which would have banned anyone born after 2009 from buying cigarettes – the Criminal Justice Bill has been completely scrapped, meaning it will not receive royal assent.

Wholesale workers were also set to be protected under the amendment. 

It comes at a time when serial offenders are wreaking havoc on the retail sector. According to the BRC, incidents of violence and abuse against shopworkers rose by 50% to 1,300 a day in 2023, while the cost of theft almost doubled to £1.8bn.

“Last month the government u-turned on the need to legislate to protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse, by announcing they would create a standalone offence in their Criminal Justice Bill,” said Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis.

“This turned out to be a political stunt trying to undermine Labour’s commitment on this. I am now not convinced that they ever intended to follow through on this promise, after failing to support the Labour amendment, delaying the passage of the bill and then allowing it to fall before parliament closed for a general election.

“The dither and delay of this government on this issue, over many years, has led to thousands of shopworkers needlessly suffering physical and mental injury. It is an absolute disgrace to play games with the lives of shopworkers, key workers in every community, on the frontline suffering unprecedented violence, abuse and threats in a retail crime epidemic. The Tory record is one of effectively decriminalising theft from shops.”

Any legislative measures protecting shopworkers from violence and abuse will now be left to the next government. The Association of Convenience Stores said it was hopeful such measures would be revived.

“The separate offence for assaulting shopworkers has received widespread cross-party support to date,” said CEO James Lowman. “So it is highly likely that we’ll see a similar measure proposed and implemented after the general election, whoever forms the next government.”

The convenience sector has been a major victim in the retail crime epidemic. The sector alone has faced am 85.4% surge in incidents of violence to 76,000 in the past year, while shoplifting soared by 409%, reaching 5.6 million incidents.

Lillis added: “Labour is committed to deliver for retail staff in England and Wales the protection of shopworkers law that has existed in Scotland for three years. Labour will end the perverse £200 threshold for prosecuting shoplifters, which has effectively become an open invitation to retail criminals.

“We hope that 14 years of Tory failure are about to come to an end, so that our members can secure the change they desperately need on this and many other issues. Shopworkers need the respect that they have long deserved and, regrettably, too often do not receive.”