Stormont stalemate puts shop workers at risk

According to the British Retail Consortium Annual Crime Survey, in the year before March 2017, nearly 51 retail workers were injured every day in the UK
Aodhán Connolly

RETAIL is a fantastic career with opportunities to work in a myriad of roles often in jobs which are convenient and flexible. One of the best elements of the work is engaging with customers. The ability to help people, or improve their day, is something which attracts people into the industry, and no matter how the industry evolves there is no doubt it will continue.

Sadly far too often some retail workers face abuse or even assault from members of the public. That's unacceptable. No one should have to face violence or insults in the workplace. What's really concerning is these incidents are on the rise.

According to the British Retail Consortium Annual Crime Survey, in the year before March 2017, nearly 51 retail workers were injured every day in the UK. Attacks on retail workers are intolerable, and our members are completely clear that keeping their staff safe and providing an environment in which they can work free of fear from threats and violence, is their priority.

That is why our sister organisations in Great Britain, the Scottish, Welsh and British Retail Consortia, have been supportive of legislation in their jurisdictions to protect workers. In Scotland, Daniel Johnson MSP's consultation on the proposed Shopworker Protection Bill is calling for more to be done to protect vulnerable retail workers by creating a new statutory offence for abusing a worker carrying out actions required by government (for example enforcing age-restricted sales such as alcoholic products). In Westminster there is a major push to ensure the Offensive Weapons Bill provides to create a new offence for assaulting or threatening a retail colleague.

What do we have in Northern Ireland? Nothing. No Assembly, no Executive, no minister, and no means to ensure that retail workers here are afforded the same protection as in Great Britain.

We need legislation to ensure that the sentences handed down are stiff enough to offer a sufficient deterrent. We need legislation to ensure retail workers, who play a vital role in Northern Ireland's economy, can perform their jobs free from abuse.

Retailers are not asking government to do this on their own, far from it. We take our responsibilities to our colleagues and shoppers seriously. As well as the millions retailers spend every year on in store security colleagues and innovations in crime prevention, we are also part of Northern Ireland Business Crime Partnership, a group made up of representatives from the justice community including the PSNI and sectors across business to make Northern Ireland a safer place to do business. This has achieved much including the first Northern Ireland Business Crime Action Plan and providing tools to allow businesses of all sizes to protect themselves.

550 days of no Executive has slowed progress on many issues to a snail's pace. That's not acceptable when shopworkers are facing violence and abuse as the price for trying to do their jobs. We need action now. It's time for our parties to get back to work and protect our workers.

:: Aodhán Connolly is director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium and a board member of the Northern Ireland Business Crime Partnership

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