On Thursday my Bill to protect retail workers was supported unanimously in the Stage 1 debate in the Scottish Parliament.  I want to thank all those Scottish Co-operative Party members and supporters who submitted evidence or wrote to their MSPs asking them to support the Bill.


I also want to thank Scotmid Co-operative, the Co-operative Group, Usdaw and many others for their on-going support of my Bill.


We are now six months into this pandemic and it has brought into sharp focus the crucial role shop workers provide – making sure we can obtain the bare necessities and essentials for life and in turn, shop workers have stepped up to keep us safe when we do so.


But it also exacerbated disturbing behaviours from a very small minority who, when faced with these restrictions, responded with abuse, threats and violence towards shop staff upholding those rules and trying to keep us all safe. Usdaw, the shop workers union, estimates that such incidents have doubled during the pandemic and they report almost 70% of retail workers cite enforcing social distancing requirements as the biggest single cause of abuse and violence at work.


The pandemic has undoubtedly brought into sharp focus the need for this legislation. Shopworkers have been on the frontline of the response. That they face abuse and assault as a result is completely unacceptable.


So, let me put this simply. Violence, threats, and abuse are not just part of the job for anyone, whether you work behind a desk or a shop counter.


But it should not have taken the pandemic to provide this insight.


Challenge 25 has become the norm in recent years.  There are dozens of goods and services that require customers to prove their age when purchasing. But what most people do not realise is that it is shop workers themselves that are liable if they fail to ask for proof of age. You can get a £5,000 fine or prison time if you sell to someone without checking their ID.


Yet it is this same legal duty that also triggers the incidents of abuse and violence. According to Usdaw, 15 shop workers are assaulted every single day in Scotland. The Scottish Grocers Federation report that half their members receive abuse when asking for ID on a daily basis.


My bill starts with a very basic principle. When we ask people to uphold the law, they should have the specific protection of the law. Emergency workers, customs officers, border staff, tax inspectors all have such protection as a matter of statue. This principle and imperative was clear before the pandemic and why I introduced a member’s bill to the Scottish Parliament to recognise the important legal duty fulfilled by people working behind shop counters.


Shop workers provide a vital frontline service. While the pandemic has brought new insight into the critical role played by these workers, the reality is they always have. They keep us safe; they uphold the law. Let’s take this opportunity to ensure that they have the protection of the law.


I am delighted that my bill passed unanimously at Stage 1, Alex Norris MP, who is a Labour and Co-operative colleague in the House of Commons, is attempting to put through a bill, which does very similar things. We have the opportunity to lead the way, as we have led the way in the past on the smoking ban, which was adopted elsewhere and was controversial at the time, and on minimum unit pricing, which was also controversial.


Giving more protection to retail workers is the very least we owe them for the vital public work they do.  I am pleased that the bill has passed at Stage 1 I now hope that there will be continued cross-party support to ensure that the Bill makes it into law before the end of this term of parliament.