The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) has urged Justice Minister Naomi Long to provide legal protection for shop workers against assault, aligning with recent legislation in other parts of the UK.  

At the start of April 2024 the UK government announced new legal measures to protect shop workers in England and Wales from violence. 

Scotland implemented a similar law, the Protection of Shop Workers Act, in 2021. 

NIRC director Neil Johnston said: “We very much welcome the announcement that Westminster is to legislate to introduce a specific standalone offence for a crime of violence against a shopworker. 

“The legislation announced however only covers England and Wales. Scotland has already legislated so there is a real danger that retail workers in Northern Ireland get left behind. 

“We hope that the minister will rapidly announce that she will introduce similar legislation as a matter of urgency or consider asking for Northern Ireland to be incorporated into the Westminster measure by means of a Legislative Consent Motion. 

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“NIRC’s priority is that workers get better legal protections, and that crime is tackled head-on.” 

The new measures in England and Wales follow a significant rise in retail crime. 

In the 2024 British Retail Consortium’s Retail Crime Survey, incidents of violence and abuse against retail staff were reported to have increased to more than 1,300 per day in 2022 to 2023, up from 867 per day the previous year.  

The proposed offence in England and Wales could lead to a maximum prison sentence of six months, an unlimited fine or a ban from the shop where the crime occurred.  

For severe cases, such as causing grievous bodily harm with intent, life sentences could be imposed.  

The government plans to intensify efforts against repeat offenders on high streets, including the use of tags for tracking movements and facial recognition technology, supported by a £55.5m investment.

This includes £4m for mobile units with live facial recognition to identify wanted individuals, such as repeat shoplifters, in crowded areas. 

In April 2024 the UK National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) intelligence unit on serious organised acquisitive retail crime, known as Opal, enhanced its operation with the launch of training to combat its growth.