With the lockdown easing and shops given the green light to re-open, retail workers across the country will return to work. Now more than ever, greater protection against violence towards them is required.
Over the weekend the Government set out the next phase of the lockdown easing, which will include the opening of non-essential shops and the return to work for retail workers across the country. What form these openings may take is still unclear, and the details of the how we may find ourselves shopping in the weeks and months to come are yet to be seen.
But what is important is that the people who ensure our shelves are stocked and shops are open do so in a safe way, with proper protections in place.
In recent months we have seen just how important retail workers are, as those in the food supply chain helped make sure we could access the supplies we needed. And I’m proud that it was Co-operative MPs in Westminster who helped ensure these efforts were recognised and retail workers were rightly included on the Government’s list of essential workers.
However since then, shopworkers have continued to face violence and aggression as they have gone about their jobs. In fact, a survey by the shopworkers trade union USDAW found that incidents of verbal abuse, threats and assaults – that were already unacceptably frequent – have doubled during the coronavirus crisis.
The statistics are shameful, but the incidents behind each figure are equally disgraceful. As shopworkers have tried to maintain public safety by requesting social distancing or asking shoppers not to panic buy, in return they have been attacked, or threatened to be spat at or coughed on.
These incidents are utterly unacceptable, and alongside the Co-operative Party and USDAW I have long campaigned for greater protection for retail workers against these acts of intimidation, aggression, and violence.
Earlier this year I brought forward legislation on the issue, and my Bill to bring tougher sentences and a greater deterrent to those committing these acts will return to Parliament next month.
And as increasing numbers of shop and retail workers soon return to work in an unfamiliar and uncertain environment, it is vital now more than ever they are given adequate and effective protection by this Government.