Harsher penalties for assaults on retail workers

Harsher penalties for assaults on retail workers

Armadale Sub-District Senior Sergeant Paul Thornton said retail theft is one of three busiest areas for his officers.

Thugs who attack retail workers could soon cop up to seven years in prison.

The state government will introduce legislation to parliament this week to reform the criminal code.

Under the change, the maximum penalty for assaulting a retail worker will be increased from 18 months’ imprisonment and a fine of $18,000, to seven years’ imprisonment or three years and a fine of $36,000 if dealt with summarily.

“Everyone has the right to feel safe when they go to work,” Premier Cook said on Monday ahead of the first sitting day of the year.

“But lately, we’ve seen increased violence and unacceptable behaviour targeted at our retail workers. And frankly, it’s a disgrace.

“These new laws will send a very clear message to these violent thugs in our community: you will be held accountable for your actions.”

Similar action has already been taken in the Northern Territory, South Australia, and New South Wales, with increased maximum criminal penalties already in place.

The state government’s legislation changes are clearly a direct response to last year’s campaign by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) to raise the maximum penalties.

A national survey by the SDA of its members, which attracted 4600 responses, revealed 87 per cent said they had experienced abuse from customers in the past year.

The reports of physical violence increased by a staggering 56 per cent when compared with the results of a 2021 survey.

“Our members are often young workers in their first job, or someone’s parent who is putting food on the table. All too frequently, they are subjected to abuse and violence at work, and we want strong legislative action to be taken to protect them,” SDA WA secretary Ben Harris said.

“It is crucial that these workers should feel safe when performing an essential service.”

The Australian Retailers Association echoed the SDA’s call for change.

“All retail workers have a right to feel safe at work and the wellbeing of this vital workforce has a flow on effect to the wellbeing of many others in our community,” ARA Chief Executive Paul Zahra said.

“Being asked to show your receipt doesn’t give you an excuse to crack someone over the head. That’s why we want to see tough laws in WA to better protect our retail workers and keep them safe.”

While crime rates in the District of Armadale are dropping in many areas, retail theft and common assault are two of the crimes which have continued to surge.

In fact, the rate of theft from retail stores in the district has more than doubled since July 2021; in the 2020-2021 year there were 588 cases of retail theft per 100,000 people in Armadale. Up to January this year the rate is at 636 cases, with six months still to go.

This escalation is echoed by increasingly desperate reports on community pages on social media, with many locals stating that they’d prefer to drive to Carousel than shop in the Armadale CBD and witness the violence and anti-social behaviour that occurs there daily.

“My commitment to you is simple: we’ve got your back, and we’ll throw the book at anyone who puts your safety at risk,” the premier said on Monday.

Attorney General John Quigley believes the harsher penalties will be the proverbial stick needed to deter assaults on retail staff.

“These reforms will not only ensure that our justice system protects retail workers, but that community standards are met when it comes to appropriate penalties for those who commit these crimes,” he said.

Many are praising the announcement online.

“Thank you for looking after the retail workers…they face such unnecessary abuse and threats,” Sandra Sam Cross said.

“Hear hear…I hope those assaulting and abusing our hard-working retail staff are punished and penalised to the full extent of the law,” Chris Cobain said.

But there were more who doubted whether harsher penalties would be doled out.

“And how many times has the current maximum sentence of 18 months been handed down? I’m betting it never has, so no chance seven years will make one bit of difference,” Raymond Tailor said.

“If you raised the minimum sentence, we would know you were serious but you’re not.”

“That’s great as long as judges actually carry through with your threats. All too often sob stories of ‘poor me’ childhoods result in slaps on wrists only,” Shirl Sutherland said.

“No judge or lawyer worth his new 300 series is ever going to push for the maximum sentence,” Danny Tuddenham said.

And others were questioning why retail workers were getting special treatment.

“And what about assault in general? Domestic violence? There aren’t enough punishments for those hurting others. I was assaulted recently and no doubt the offender will get a slap on the wrist and yet I’m left with injuries, and paying to see specialists,” Tamara Heaton said.