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In context: Protection of Workers Bill

Customer shopping in a supermarket - Image credit: Richard Gray/EMPICS Entertainment/PA

In context: Protection of Workers Bill

The Scottish Parliament has voted to support the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill at stage one. The member’s bill was brought forward by Labour MSP Daniel Johnson and will create 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 such as age-restricted sales. The stage one debate and vote will be followed by two more legislative stages before it can be made law

So, what does it actually mean?

The bill aims to give greater protection in law to retail workers, who often face violence and threats while carrying out their jobs, and particularly where employees are providing goods and services that are age-restricted, for example the sale of alcohol or cigarettes. The bill makes it a specific, new criminal offence to assault them, threaten or abuse them and, if the offence was committed because the worker was applying an age restriction – such as 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.

Does it cover anything else?

The original member’s bill also included an offence of obstructing or hindering retail workers. However, the Scottish Government does not believe that criminalising hindering and obstructing retail workers is an appropriate step. Those provisions were therefore removed from the bill. The Scottish Government does, however, support the proposed legislation other than that aspect.

Has this ever been proposed before?

In June 2010, Hugh Henry MSP introduced the Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill. It provided for a specific statutory offence relating to assaults on people whose work brings them into face-to-face contact with members of the public. It fell after the Scottish Parliament disagreed to its general principles in December 2010 and so did not become law.

What about the legal side of things?

The bill provides that the new offence could be prosecuted under summary procedure only and would carry a maximum sentence of imprisonment for up to 12 months and/or a fine of £10,000 (other penalties such as community payback orders would also be available). Where the prosecution considered that offending behaviour covered by the bill might justify a higher sentence, there would still be the option of instead prosecuting other existing offences under solemn procedure, which is used for more serious offences.

What does everyone think?

“Passing my bill into law will provide an important recognition of the key duty shop workers have upholding the law and the issues they face doing so. Most critically, the pandemic has seen people working in retail performing critical roles, supplying the basic essentials to all of us and keeping us safe as we do so. 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. It’s now more important than ever that we support our retail workers”

Daniel Johnson, MSP for Edinburgh Southern

“The bill represents a once-in-a generation opportunity to make shops in Scotland safer for staff, customers and communities and SGF would ask the Scottish Government and all MSPs to support the bill”

The Scottish Grocers’ Federation

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the key role that retail workers play in serving and sustaining Scotland’s communities. This legislation will help emphasise the importance of law enforcement using their powers to protect retail workers”

Minister for Community Safety Ash Denham

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