13 Jun 2010

Speech introducing the debate on the Freedom from Fear campaign 14 April 2010

Motion debated,

That the Parliament is shocked and horrified that there has been a 78% increase in violence and abuse against Scottish shop workers over the last three years, according to Retailers Against Crime; believes that further measures need to be taken to deter violence against shop workers and other workers delivering a service to the public; welcomes the Freedom from Fear campaign organised by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), which seeks to make shops and shopping areas safer for staff and customers; recognises that the sale of age-restricted products, especially alcohol, is a frequent flashpoint for verbal abuse, threats and violence against shop workers; further recognises the difficulties that shop workers, including in Paisley South, have in policing age-restricted sales and how that can leave them vulnerable, isolated and under threat of prosecution when mistakes are made; considers that there would be benefit in high-profile campaigns that support the Think 25 policy and highlight to youngsters that it is an offence to attempt to buy alcohol under age, and would welcome a partnership approach to the development of strategies to prevent under-age sales rather than sting operations, which seek to prosecute shop workers.

Hugh Henry (Paisley South) (Lab): Like many others, I take for granted the fact that there should be no abuse or violence at work. People think that should be the norm in a civilised society, but unfortunately that is still not the case for many workers across Scotland, particularly shop workers.

Over the past few years, like many other members of the Scottish Parliament, I have received regular reports of violence against bus workers, train drivers, postal workers, social care staff and, of course, shop workers. Indeed, I have received such reports about many other workers in different occupations in Scotland. That is the main reason for my proposed workers (aggravated offences) Scotland bill. I am grateful to MSPs not only from the Labour Party but from other parties who have supported my proposal, and I look forward to taking the bill on to its next stage. I am also grateful for broad-based support from trade unions in not only highlighting the problems that their members experience but offering practical support in moving forward what is, for them, a very important bill.

Tonight, I will focus on one issue: violence against and abuse of shop workers. In 2002, USDAW, the shop workers union, launched its freedom from fear campaign to highlight the violence and abuse that shop workers throughout the United Kingdom face.

Since then, USDAW has organised annual respect for shop workers events, including events in Scotland. I have been pleased to help to highlight the issue by hosting events here in the Scottish Parliament. One feature of the campaign is that events have secured support from MSPs from all political parties. I know that USDAW is grateful for that broad-based support.

Unfortunately, the problem does not go away. I acknowledge that, since USDAW launched its campaign, there has been a decline in the number of reported incidents, but everything is relative. In 2009, there were still more than 13,000 physical attacks and hundreds of thousands of reported cases of regular verbal abuse across the United Kingdom. That is unacceptable—no worker should have to face such incidents in the course of their employment.

I pay tribute to USDAW for the work that it has done in taking such a determined stance against a problem that is totally unacceptable. John Hannett, the general secretary of USDAW, has led from the front and put his union fully behind the campaign to make a difference. I thank David Williams, the political officer of USDAW, for the work that he has done. He has been a true friend to those in Scotland who have campaigned on the issue. John Scott may not share my view, but I wish David Williams well in his campaign to be elected as the next member of Parliament for Crewe and Nantwich and look forward to him being at Westminster. Here in Scotland, Lawrence Wason and Stewart Forrest have been vigorous in their work to promote awareness of the problem and to bring it to the attention of the wider public.