The BRC said tens of thousands of retail workers who are subject to violence or abuse had been ignored

Supermarket bosses and union leaders have slammed the government for failing to do enough to protect store workers facing a rising tide of violence due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Yesterday the government published a new white paper, A Smarter Approach to Sentencing, including new powers for courts and the police to tackle crime.

However, while it includes new measures including tougher moves against terrorism and burglary, as well as measures on alcohol-fuelled crime, industry leaders said it contained little or no concrete action to tackle a major spike in attacks on and threats to shopworkers.

The document aims to “pull on every lever at [the government’s] disposal to make criminal justice work better” but the BRC said tens of thousands of retail workers who are subject to violence or abuse, with over 400 incidents every day, had been ignored.

The white paper comes a day after the government rejected an Usdaw petition, signed by more than 62,000 people. The petition called for a specific offence of abusing, threatening or assaulting a retail worker.

Usdaw said it was “disappointed but not surprised” by the government lack of intervention but said it would continue to campaign for 100,000 signatures, which should trigger a parliamentary debate on the issue.

The petition, which can be signed here, now has more than 62,000 signatures.

An Usdaw survey based on 4,928 responses from shopworkers across the UK shows that from 14 March to 17 April 2020, over 60% had been verbally abused, 30% threatened and more than 4% assaulted.

“Just one day after rejecting calls to toughen sentences for those who attack shopworkers, the government has issued a white paper which aims to reform sentencing law to ‘keep people safe’,” said Tom Ironside, director of business and regulation at the BRC.

“While we fully support all that the government has said about the violence and abuse of emergency workers and the legislation implemented to protect them, similar protection is needed for retail workers; especially when they are assaulted for enforcing age-restricted sales, or implementing vital coronavirus safety measures.

“While the improvements to community sentences could help, this will only be effective if the police and the courts use them, especially in cases of violence against retail workers.

“We are very disappointed that the government has failed to act decisively to protect the millions of hardworking shopworkers and their families who have done so much to support this country during the pandemic.”

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, added: “We are deeply disappointed by the government’s response to the petition.

“This is a hugely important issue for our members and their local communities, with incidents of abuse doubling during the Covid-19 crisis. Shopworkers are saying loud and clear that enough is enough, abuse should never be just a part of the job.

“At a time when the government is rightly increasing sentences for those who assault emergency service workers, and we congratulate them for that, they don’t appear to understand the role retail workers have in helping to keep our communities safe, preventing crime and anti-social behaviour.

“Shopworkers are on the frontline of policing age-restricted sales, a major flashpoint for violence, threats and abuse. Imagine the chaos and criminality that would be inflicted on communities if the sale of alcohol, knives, glue, fireworks and other dangerous items were not policed by retail staff.

“Yet the government will not give shopworkers extra protection when carrying out those duties. In fact, it is the shopworker who is most likely to be prosecuted or disciplined if they make a mistake.”