Matt Vickers MP writes for The Northern Echo on legislation to protect shop workers from abuse.

DAY in and day out millions of people across this country serve us in our shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. They represent everything from the largest nationwide firms to the smallest local businesses.

Throughout the pandemic many of these essential workers kept our country going, keeping supermarkets and shops open, working the tills, and stocking the shelves. They kept our country fed and moving in the toughest of times.

Working in retail is a great opportunity. It can be the stepping stone for young people starting in the workforce, for parents who’ve just had a baby, or for recent retirees to get out of the house.

As a university student, I worked at Woolworths, a choice that would lay the foundations for my future career. With experience under my belt, I went on to work in retail management and loved every minute of it.

My experiences made me passionate about the sector, and the opportunities it provided me – it's why I chair the All Party Parliamentary Group on Retail today.

But I know that every day, retail workers face disgusting abuse simply for doing their job. The latest figures from the British Retail Consortium estimate that at least 1,300 people in the industry are subject to violence or abuse every single day. This is simply not acceptable.

I experienced it first-hand in my time on the shop floor and know the real and lasting effects abuse can have. Sadly, this problem has only got worse.

Hardworking people are facing the threat of abuse simply for undertaking their statutory duty to check someone’s ID. No one should ever be threatened for doing their job and upholding our laws. Putting on a shop worker uniform and upholding the law does not mean that the honest workers of our supermarkets, corner shops and petrol stations are fair game for harassment.

Should a shop worker ultimately decide to sell alcohol or tobacco to a minor through fear of intimidation or threatening behaviour, they face the prospect of a police caution and an unlimited fine. The consequences of one transaction can go far beyond a slap on the wrist.

We rightly impose this statutory duty and consequences on our shop workers but then, in return, we should afford them statutory protection.

That’s why I’ve been actively championing for changes to our legislation to take a tougher stance against these despicable offenders. Today, I’m delighted to announce that this Conservative government has listened.

The provisions laid down in the new Criminal Justice Bill deliver exactly what we need to bring back law and order to our shops and high streets.

Our government has announced a new offence for assaulting a retail worker, an almost automatic Criminal Behaviour Order, and new powers to impose unlimited fines and jail times on those convicted.

It’s thanks to this, alongside more funding for facial recognition and the tagging of prolific offenders and repeat shoplifters, that we will end the ‘wild west’ in our stores.

This new legislation shows that the government is listening to working people, and delivering on their priorities.

I’m proud to have worked with the sector and played a part in bringing forward these changes and I hope they will benefit retail workers in Stockton South and right across the country.

  • Matt Vickers is the Conservative MP for Stockton South