THE Scottish Government is to back a Labour MSP’s plans for new laws to protect shopworkers from aggressive customers.

Community safety minister Ash Denham said her party would now vote for a Private Members Bill being put forward by Daniel Johnson, effectively guaranteeing that it will pass through Holyrood.

The Edinburgh Southern MSP – currently facing deselection over his part in a plot to overthrow Richard Leonard – said he was delighted to get the Government’s support.

The bill will create a specific new offence for assaults, threats and abuse against retail workers, as well as additional protections for workers who need to demand proof of age for restricted sales.

In a letter to the MSPs on the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, Denham confirmed that the Government will back the legislation at next week’s Holyrood vote, if slight tweaks can be made.

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The minister said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the key role that retail workers play in serving and sustaining Scotland’s communities.

“This legislation will help emphasise the importance of law enforcement using their powers to protect retail workers.”

Johnson said: “Passing my bill into law will provide an important recognition of the key duty shop workers have upholding the law and the issues they face doing so.

“Most critically, the pandemic has seen people working in retail performing critical roles, supplying the basic essentials to all of us and keeping us safe as we do so. This bill pays an important tribute to these efforts over the last six months.”

Johnson continued: “It is clear from my consultation and work that there is clear public support for my bill.

“I will continue to work with other political parties and key stakeholders to ensure it passes the remaining parliamentary stages and becomes law.”

USDAW welcomed the Scottish Government’s decision.

Stewart Forrest from the union said the last six months had been difficult for his members. He said: “Throughout the coronavirus emergency shop workers are ensuring that Scotland remains fed. Retail staff are at an increased risk of contracting Covid-19, yet they have continued to go to work and help respond to the crisis. Despite this, we have seen abuse, threats and violence against shop staff double this year.

“However abuse of shop workers is a problem in more normal times and, in our view, the current legal provisions do not sufficiently protect them.

“The Scottish Government’s support for the intentions of the bill is welcome and we hope they will assist in securing a change in the law to better protect shopworkers before next year’s election.”

Research carried out before the pandemic found that a third of all retail staff had been threatened.