Would new law put an end to threats to pub or store staff?


Rhian Waller

MOST of the time, people selling alcohol will face verbal abuse at worst.

But on those occasions where things threaten to get physical, drinkers might think twice about assaulting a seller if a new law goes through.

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) and Pubwatch have backed part of the Government’s Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which will see the assault of a worker selling alcohol become an offence in its own right.

John Hannett, general secretary of Usdaw, said: “There is a real need to address the scourge of violence against workers and I am concerned the attackers are getting away with relatively lenient sentences.

“Parliament expects shop and bar workers to enforce and police the laws they pass, so it is only right they also provide the additional protection needed to help keep those workers safe.”

Mr Hannett said shop and bar workers are expected to take on a “pseudo police officer role” and enforce the law, by preventing under-age purchases and refusing sales to customers who have already had too much.

He said: “This can often lead to violence, threats and abuse against the worker. Our own survey revealed more than 300 shopworkers a day are violently attacked while doing their job and many of those incidents involved the sale of alcohol.”

Buddug Roberts, 54, of Flint, used to run a pub in Pwllheli, where she had to adopt a no-nonsense approach with customers, despite being put in a tricky situation by the legal requirement to ID people – who might turn aggressive.

“Thing is, if you don’t ID them, you lose your job,” she said. “But people don’t like it. If they look under 25, you have to ask.

“Older people aren’t too bothered, but a lot of younger people won’t have ID. It’s your job on the line.”

Mrs Roberts now works in a local supermarket. Although in both roles she has served up alcohol, the challenges are different.

She said: “In shops and pubs you’ll get customers talking to staff as though they’re something that just came off their shoe.

“If someone walks into a shop and had a bit too much, you have to refuse to serve them. That’s when they’ll kick off. I’ve had people verbally threaten me.”

She added: “People can be quite threatening. The difference is that in the shop you have co-workers, security and management who will back you up. In the pub you don’t have that.

“On the other hand, in the pub you have the power to chuck them out. In a supermarket, whatever the customer says, you can’t shout back. You have to stand there and take it.”

Neither situation is ideal.

Mrs Roberts said: “When you refuse them, they can get aggravated and violent, but we’re just trying to do the job.”

Lynn Roberts, 28, from Wrexham, has worked in two supermarkets in the area, as well as a couple of bars.

She said: “As far as I’m concerned, we don’t get paid enough to get involved in a confrontation – but I do sometimes feel threatened.

“At the checkout, you’re at an easy level for them if they want to smack you in the face.

“It’s also hard to judge people. In a supermarket you see lots of different customers. It’s not like a pub where you have a few regulars.

“But working in a pub is also an awkward situation to be in, especially if you’re on your own.”

She added: “What makes it more difficult is the government keeps putting the age ratings up.

“It was that you had to look over 21, now it’s over 25. That gets on people’s nerves.”

Jayne Hughes, 51, of Acrefair, who has been in bar work on and off in different places for 20 years, said bar staff often find themselves in the position of unofficial peace-keepers.

She said: “Mostly when you ID people and refuse them, they’ll just have a bit of a temper tantrum, but sometimes you do have to step in and sort things out.

“The only time I’ve felt genuinely threatened was when I was on a bar on my own and a gang of 30 men came in, but actually they were OK.”

Mrs Hughes is concerned the new law, if passed, could be a double edged sword.

“I think bar staff and shop workers should have more protection” she said. But she added workers “need to be able to deal with a situation, not have an attitude of: ‘you can’t touch me, I’m staff’.”

Deeane Rothwell, 37, runs the Boar’s Head in Northop Hall with her husband Darren. She said: “I’ve been working in pubs since I was 18. In my experience, most of the attacks were verbal and they come from people who are too drunk to serve.”

“I’ve never been physically assaulted, but the situation can feel very threatening.

“You have to be very aware of the state of people coming in, especially as a lot of people pre-drink [drink at home] before coming out.”

Mrs Rothwell believes threats of violence and real violence have been considered “all part of the job” for too long. She said: “We do training on how to deal with people.

“It’s part of the requirements of licensing and we educate our staff on whether people are safe to serve. We’re very strict on the limits.

“The problem is, if someone is verbally abused on the streets, you can report it and take it further if the police think it’s worth doing that.

“In pubs, it’s taken on the chin because you know there’ll be no recourse.

“People shrug and say the attacker didn’t make the correct judgement because of alcohol. You get on with it. It’s part of the job.

“A lot of workers don’t report it. I’ve never reported anything like that and don’t know of anyone who has.”

Pub owners can bar people from the premises. If they are members of Pubwatch, they can circulate the information to other venues.

But pubs like the Boar’s Head, which is the only one in the village, typically have to go it alone.

“Basically, it’s a case of treat people how you want to be treated, for the sake of bar staff, other customers and the people running the pub – because the pub becomes our lives – that’s what you sign on for when you take a pub over. It’s a vocation, not
a job.”

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