The Scottish Government will back new laws being put forward by a shop entrepreneur turned Labour MSP aimed at improving protection for shop staff.
Community safety minister Ash Denham said the Government would back Daniel Johnson’s Member’s Bill, if some changes are made.
The Labour MSP is bringing forward legislation which would make it a new specific offence to assault, abuse or threaten retail staff.
If this took place when someone was 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.
Denham confirmed to MSPs on Holyrood’s Justice Committee that the Government will back the legislation when it comes before Holyrood for a vote next week.
That will happen if changes can be made removing parts of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill that would make it an offence to hinder or obstruct retail workers.
Denham said: “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.”
She added: “Subject to certain amendments being made to the Bill in Parliament, the Scottish Government will be supporting this legislation to improve understanding of the extent of offences against retail workers and to ensure a new specific offence can be used for assaults, threats and abuse committed against these workers.”
Johnson, who ran his family’s shop business before becoming the MSP for Edinburgh Southern, said he was “delighted” the Government had agreed to back the Bill at next week’s vote.
He said recent talks with ministers had been “useful in identifying understanding on this important issue”.
The Labour MSP added: “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. This Bill pays an important tribute to these efforts over the last six months.”
Johnson continued: “It is clear from my consultation and work that there is clear public support for my Bill.
“I will continue to work with other political parties and key stakeholders to ensure it passes the remaining parliamentary stages and becomes law.”
Ewan MacDonald-Russell, the Scottish Retail Consortium’s head of policy, said: “Retailers have been unequivocal action is needed to combat the relentless and disgraceful rise in violence and abuse towards shopworkers.
“This growing problem is often triggered by shop workers delivering what government increasingly asks of them: enforcing an expanding range of age-restriction policies, refusing to serve intoxicated customers, or dealing with shop thieves.
“Our most recent Crime Survey found a worrying increase in severe violent incidents against staff despite record spending on crime prevention by retailers – with ten Scottish workers a day being abused.
“The case that retail workers need better protections has been confirmed during the pandemic.
“Retail workers have taken on new legal duties to protect themselves and customers.
“However, that has increased the pressure on those workers who are now legally responsible for enforcing legislation on customers, creating further conflict and flashpoints which have led to workers being abused and attacked.
“We therefore welcome the news that Scottish Government is backing this long overdue Bill which will help better protect shopworkers from violence and abuse.
“The Bill is an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to lead the way in in the UK in supporting hard-working retail staff – and we hope all parties will support the thrust of the legislation.”