Shop workers in Scotland are being urged to report attacks and incidents of abuse as new legislation aimed at protecting them comes into force.
On Tuesday, new legislation came into effect following the passing of the Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill.
A new offence has been created for situations where a retail worker is assaulted, threatened or abused while engaged in their work.
Committing this offence while a retail worker is enforcing a statutory age restriction also constitutes an aggravation.
The offence can result in a fine, with penalties escalating to a prison sentence, with the aggravation adding the potential for more significant fine/sentence.
Union bosses at Usdaw made the plea for people to report as a survey revealed a fifth of retail workers who suffer such attacks do not inform their employers.
Usdaw also revealed details of some of the “heartbreaking” testimonies it has received from staff as part of a survey into the problem.
An Usdaw survey, released during the union’s Freedom from Fear campaign week, found in the last 12 months 92% of retail staff have experienced verbal abuse, with 70% threatened by a customer.
Some 14% of shop staff have been physically assaulted in the last year, the UK-wide survey of almost 2,000 workers revealed.
One in five have never reported the abuse to their employer, the survey added, with this including 5% of those who had been assaulted.
The figures were revealed as a new law improving protection for shop workers in Scotland comes into force.
The new legislation, the result of a Member’s Bill by Labour’s Daniel Johnson, makes it a specific offence to assault, abuse or threaten retail staff.
If such an attack takes place while the perpetrator is trying to buy age-restricted products – such as alcohol or cigarettes – that would be an aggravating factor which could then result in the offence being treated more seriously by the courts.
Shop workers have complained to Usdaw about the impact coronavirus restrictions have had, with one union member in the Highlands and Islands saying “social distancing and mask wearing have resulted in confrontations that have got particularly aggressive”.
A retail worker reported: “I have had someone throw their shopping at me when I have asked to stay two metres away.”
Another employee in the Lothians area said: “Multiple times I’ve had stuff thrown at me and once was kicked into a machine.”
A worker in the south of Scotland said the abuse they had received included being “sworn at, spat at, kicked at, punched at, eggs thrown at me”.
One Glasgow worker reported they had “had a bottle held over my head” while working on a till, adding they had also been “called a rat and been warned to watch myself walking home at night”.
Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis called on the UK Government to follow Holyrood’s example and introduce legislation to protect retail workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Tracy Gilbert, Usdaw’s Scottish regional secretary, welcomed the legislation coming into force, adding: “For this new legislation to have a real impact, we need to make sure staff report incidents of violence, threats or abuse to their manager.
“We are aware that some retail workers may feel it won’t make a difference, but my message to shop workers is absolutely clear – report it to sort it.
“We are working with the Scottish Government, police and retailers to promote the new law. We want criminals to understand that assaulting and abusing shop workers is unacceptable and will land them with a stiffer sentence.”
Dr John Lee, head of policy at the Scottish Grocers’ Federation, said: “Crime is unacceptable in our shops. By reporting every incident to police, those responsible will get the message loud and clear that we will not put up with this.
“The Protection of Workers Act is a powerful statement that threats, abuse and violence against shop staff will not be tolerated and that those responsible will face consequences.”