Retailers and unions are stepping up a campaign for legislation to protect shopworkers against crime.
A coalition including leading supermarkets and trade has written to the Prime Minister saying that legislation is needed to protect the three million workers in the sector.
The Government has rejected calls for a new law, but the letter warns that shopworkers continue to face violence, abuse and anti-social behaviour.
The Co-op published a new report to back up the call for stiffer penalties for those committing assaults and attacks on shopworkers.
The retail giant revealed that in the first quarter of this year, it has seen almost 400 incidents where weapons have been used against shopworkers, with over half of those involving sharp implements, such as a syringe or a knife or bottle.
Last year, the Co-op saw a 76% increase in recorded anti-social behaviour and verbal abuse compared to 2019, with more than 100 incidents every day.
Over the last five years (since 2016) there has been a 35-fold increase in this type of incident.
Jo Whitfield, chief executive of Co-op Retail, said: “Violence, abuse and anti-social behaviour towards shopworkers is unacceptable, and it is clear from our conversations that there is appetite across the political spectrum to bring forward new clauses to the Government’s Crime (PCSC) Bill which would provide the protection that frontline shopworkers need and deserve.
“Stiffer sentencing will send out a clear message that criminal behaviour in our communities will not be tolerated by society, and importantly lets shopworkers – who have gone to amazing lengths to feed and care for communities throughout the pandemic – know that they are being listened to and taken seriously.
“Assaults and abuse should not be part of the job, and by standing together, I am confident we can encourage the Government to change its mind and bring about greater protection for shopworkers in all our communities.”
Dr Emmeline Taylor, author of the report, said: “The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill provides an opportunity to enact legislation that will better serve victims, protect communities and rehabilitate offenders.
“The Bill introduces better protections for emergency workers. Given the alarming frequency and severity of assaults against shop workers, an amendment to the Bill to include them would signal that these crimes will be taken seriously.”
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “Retailers and their colleagues faced over a million incidents of verbal abuse and thousands of attacks over the last year, despite keeping their communities going throughout the pandemic.”
Paddy Lillis, general secretary of the shopworkers union Usdaw, said: “We welcome another expert report from Dr Taylor, but deeply regret that her further intervention is necessary because of growing violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers.
“Usdaw’s 2020 survey showed that nine in 10 shopworkers had been abused last year and the situation had become much worse during the pandemic.
“So it is very disappointing that the Government continues to resist calls from across the retail industry for new legislation to protect shopworkers.”