Making face coverings compuslory in Scotland’s shops could create more “frictions and flashpoints” in stores if staff have to enforce rules on wearing them, retail chiefs have warned.
The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said shops are already concerned about a “growth in incidents of abuse towards staff” and warned making coverings such as masks mandatory could exacerbate this.
Nicola Sturgeon is set to make an announcement on the issue on Thursday.
The Scottish Greens said shoppers should be required to cover their faces inside stores, as they already are in 50 countries including Germany, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea.
Party co-leader Alison Johnstone said: “Face coverings help save lives, yet, in images and footage of the shops reopening this week, the majority of people appear not to be wearing masks. Many supermarkets still haven’t provided coverings for their staff.”
She said it “makes no sense” for face coverings to be compulsory on public transport, but not in stores.
She added: “Germany made face coverings mandatory in April. Scotland needs to do the same to protect our shop workers and the wider public.”
But the SRC warned of the possible consequences of such a move, with head of policy Ewan MacDonald-Russell saying the consortium supports the current stance that “the voluntary wearing of face coverings by customers can make a positive contribution in conjunction with using hand sanitiser and maintaining physical distancing etiquette in stores”.
But he added: “If the wearing of face coverings is to become compulsory – perhaps in tandem with a reduction in the two-metre physical distancing rule – then putting the burden of enforcement on shop workers risks creating new frictions or flashpoints with customers.
“It should be the authorities and not retail workers who should be responsible for enforcing any new mandatory approach.
“Retailers are already concerned about the growth in incidents of abuse towards staff, often triggered by shop workers delivering and enforcing what the state increasingly asks of them.”
He said retail staff have “played a vital role in keeping Scotland fed and supplied” during the coronavirus lockdown, with shops having to introduce physical distancing in stores.
Asking shop staff to enforce legislation can create “further conflict and flashpoints which have led to workers being abused”, Mr MacDonald-Russell said.
He insisted: “That is always unacceptable and reaffirms the urgent case for legislation to protect shop workers.”
He spoke out as Holyrood’s Economy Committee backed legislation from Labour’s Daniel Johnson aimed at increasing protection for shop staff.
Speaking about the Protection of Workers Bill, committee convener Michelle Ballantyne said: “The abuse that retail workers face every day just for doing their jobs is completely unacceptable.
“Each incident is one too many and the committee welcomes the Bill’s aim to provide greater protection.”
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon made clear abuse of shop staff is “just not acceptable” as she said it is not for such workers to “be the enforcers of the rules”.
She stated: “Let me be very clear that nobody should be abusing, or being intolerant to, or showing disrespect to people working in our shops.
“As we open up I want people to support the retail sector, I want people to shop responsibly, following all the rules.
“But all of us have a choice of whether we go to a shop right now; we have a choice as individuals, as customers whether we take that risk.
“People who work in shops don’t have that choice, and they’re there and anything they’re asking you to do – whether it is wash your hands when you come in, queue, physically distance, quarantine things you’ve touched, or wear a face covering – if they’re asking you to do anything that you’re not used to doing as a shopper, they’re asking you to do it for your protection and for the protection of other shoppers.
“So it’s just not acceptable that people would abuse or show disrespect to staff in shops or anywhere else, so please don’t do it.”