HEALTH MATTERS: Backing for staff facing abuse in pubs and shops

05 Sep 2021

Justice Secretary Keith Brown; Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham and Solictor General Ruth Charteris QC. Above: Labour Health spokesperson Jackie Baillie, Tam Murray, Glencairn Bar, Dumbarton, and Neil Bibby, MSP.

By Bill Heaney

Abuse directed at retail and bar staff who ask customers to comply with the law and wear face coverings will not be tolerated, Justice Secretary Keith Brown has said.

It continues to be a legal requirement to wear face coverings in places such as shops and pubs and on public transport unless exempt – and Mr Brown said any form of abuse, threats or violence faced by workers as a result of simply doing their job is “completely unacceptable”.

It comes as new powers came into force in Scotland last month, making assaulting, threating or abusing certain staff a new standalone offence. Previously such conduct would be dealt with under more general offences.

Face coverings are a hugely important mitigation in the fight against COVID-19 as they create a physical barrier that helps stop the virus spreading from an infected person, while providing a degree of protection to the wearer against exposure to the virus.

Mr Brown urged people to follow the rules and treat staff with respect as Scotland continued to face high infection levels.

He said:  “I would like to thank the vast majority of people who continue to wear face coverings and urge people to please follow the rules and guidelines still in place. It is still a requirement to wear face coverings in indoor public places, such as shops, public transport and when entering and moving about in hospitality settings.

“Everyone who can should wear a face covering because it is a simple and vital measure we can take to protect others and stem the spread of this deadly virus.

“Retail workers and those working in hospitality play a vital role serving our communities which has been clearly demonstrated throughout the pandemic and it’s extremely important they know they have the protection of the law when carrying out their duties.

“Any form of abuse, threats or violence faced by such workers as a result of simply doing their job is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

“Parliament recently introduced a standalone law with penalties of up to 12 months in prison and fines up to £10,000 for this type of behaviour and staff serving communities across Scotland can be assured the police and prosecution services stand ready to respond to any instances as necessary.”

DCC Malcolm Graham of Police Scotland said:  “Everyone has the right to go to their work without being threatened or assaulted.

“Retail workers now have added protection in law and the police will act on reports we receive about this kind of unacceptable behaviour.

“I would also continue to encourage people to follow the regulations and guidance that remain in place to help stop the spread of coronavirus.”

Solicitor General for Scotland Ruth Charteris QC said: “People in any walk of life should expect to go about their business without the fear of threats or abuse.

“This is true of shop workers who are protected in law and deserve our thanks and appreciation for the work they have done throughout the pandemic.”

By law, you must wear a face covering in certain indoor public places, including public transport, in Scotland unless an exemption applies. See the complete list of settings where we all have to wear face coverings.

Where face coverings are required and no exemptions apply, a member of the public who does not wear a face covering could be subject to a Fixed Penalty Notice.  Police have been given enforcement powers in law to issue fixed penalty notices in such circumstances. The penalty is £60, reduced to £30 if the penalty is paid within 28 days. However, if a person receives further fixed penalty notices, the penalty increases – so the second penalty would be £120 and then the amount doubles with each subsequent notice up to a maximum of £960.

A new offence specifically designed to protect certain workers such as shop workers and those involved in the sale of age restricted goods and services (e.g. working in a pub selling alcohol) came into force on 24 August.  This new offence carries with it a fine and/or prison sentence as a penalty and will help improve how the justice system responds to attacks on workers. If the worker was enforcing a statutory age restriction at the time of a crime being committed, a tougher penalty may be imposed.

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