RETAIL workers who have faced years of abuse from shoppers have praised “long-awaited” legislation making assaulting a shopworker a specific criminal offence.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that anyone assaulting a retail worker will face six months in jail or an unlimited fine, with repeat offenders forced to wear a an electronic tag.

Lifelong retail worker Stacey Saunders, who has worked in a number of shops across Southend, says the treatment of shopworkers is inexcusable as they are met with daily torrents of abuse by shoppers.

The move comes after a major clampdown on shoplifting across the county, which has seen Essex Police dish out dozens of shop bans to prolific offenders this year.

Ms Saunders, said: “This is valuable progress, it won’t change everything but it is on the right track and retail is dying out, in no small part due to retail crime that plays a part.

“So much money is lost through shoplifting and if we can protect people and businesses even a little bit, this is worth it.

“The issue is you need to actually build a case, which is tough, and a lot of stores don’t report the crime.

“You’d need the CCTV to be very clear for example, which won’t always be the case.”

One current Basildon Asda worker told the abuse of staff and shoplifting is “rife” across the retail sector and staff are regularly hit with both verbal and physical abuse.

She said: “This is progress but there is not enough of it, shoplifting is rife here and you get three or four walk-offs a day.

“Personally, I don’t think this enough to stop it.”

Southend business owner, Martin Richardson, who runs the Happidrome Arcade, in Marine Parade, added: “This has been a long time coming and I have been an outspoken advocate for people running stores to have protection. Week after week, you see the same names for these offence and businesses cannot keep sustaining £300 thefts regularly.

“People should be able to go to work without fear of assault by customers, we need to get the respect back.”