RISING cases of assaults on shopworkers will result in courts being given more powers to hand out tougher sentences to attackers.

Ministers announced on Wednesday that assaulting a shopworker will be made a separate criminal offence, despite previously saying it did not think a law change was required in response to a petition on the subject.

Offenders face a maximum sentence of six months in jail or an unlimited fine - the same sentencing guidelines for common assault.

The change comes after the shopworkers’ union, Usdaw, revealed last year that two-thirds of its Barnsley members working in retail shops across the town were suffering abuse from customers.

Wentworth and Dearne MP, John Healey, says the U-turn was welcome but ‘long overdue’.

He added: “This latest U-turn by the government is welcome, but why has it taken so long for them to act?

“The Tories dither and delay has meant thousands of shopworkers have needlessly suffered physical and mental injury.

“We’ve been calling for tougher action on those who assault shopworkers for the past ten years but this government has voted against Labour plans for better protection.

“Shopworkers have reported that they’ve been spat at, threatened with knives and faced verbal abuse.

“It’s important that we respect our shopworkers who provide an important service.

“Abuse should not be part of the job.”

John has previously backed Usdaw’s ‘Freedom From Fear’ campaign and shocking statistics from the union’s annual survey of members last year revealed that 65 per cent had experienced verbal abuse, 42 per cent were threatened by a customer and five per cent had been assaulted.

Shoplifting, they claimed, triggered the majority of incidents.

The Labour Party announced plans earlier this week to tackle anti-social behaviour and shoplifting so that people feel safe when they go out to shop, eat or socialise in their local high street.

The plans include putting 13,000 more neighbourhood police and PCSOs back on the beat and scrapping the Tories’ £200 rule which stops shoplifting being investigated.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw’s general secretary, said: “It is shocking that two-thirds are suffering abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence.

“Six in ten of these incidents were triggered by theft from shops, which is clearly the result of a 25 per cent increase in police-recorded shoplifting.

“Our survey demonstrates that shoplifting is not a victimless crime - theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers.

“Having to deal with repeated and persistent shoplifters can cause issues beyond the theft itself like anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers.

“Our members are reporting that they are often faced with hardened career criminals in their stores and much of the abuse they suffer is from those who are stealing to sell goods on, often to fund an addiction.

“Issuing fixed penalty notices for shop thefts under £200 has led to fewer crimes being investigated and prosecuted.

“This long overdue U-turn is the culmination of many years of sustained campaigning by Usdaw and others.

“Our members have had to wait too long for their voices to be heard and common sense to prevail.

“This is a hugely important issue for our members and they are saying loud and clear that enough is enough.”