Campaigning for Betting Shop Staff
On the face of it, certainly to outsiders, working for a betting shop is not much different to working anywhere else.
But look more closely and the special circumstances of the betting industry are obvious.
The betting shops chains meet customer demand that hasn’t diminished much over the years; it’s just changed in its form and the way bookmakers deliver their services.
What is different is regulation by the Gambling Commission. The Commission says its role is to: “ensure that gambling businesses follow the rules when promoting gambling products and interacting with customers… to ensure that gambling is safe.”
The various chains need to stay on the right side of the regulator and politicians to avoid stricter legislation and tighter controls and that presents them with major conflicts of interest. On one hand they want to maximise customer ‘spend’ but on the other they have to appear responsible and compliant with the Gambling Commission’s rules. There is a very real danger that betting shop staff will become the meat in that sandwich.
Whatever the various chains call their age verification policy: Serve Legal, Think 21 etc. this is one area where the pressure from politicians and the Gambling Commission can hit staff. Whilst it may be true that theoretically there should be no failures of age verification because anyone who could possibly be under-age should be challenged, this depends on staff seeing mystery shoppers and being able to challenge them.
Testers are supposed to give staff ample opportunity to ask for ID but the reality is often very different. Testers often just dart onto the first available machine, or piggyback onto other customers when entering the shop.
The whole process is made even harder for staff who are either serving customers already, are on the phone, are at the safe, are taking comfort breaks or whose shops have visibility issues i.e. pillars blocking the line of sight, poor lighting or no door chimes.
In the many cases we’ve dealt with company approaches have been inconsistent and have lacked care. Some disciplinary cases have just not been thought through. Although in most instances the cases against members have been dropped or ended in mild warnings the fact is that most should never have got as far as formal disciplinaries.
The Gambling Commission has a role to play here and I’ll be writing to the Commission on the key issues affecting staff. But first we’ll be surveying staff to get their input. You’ll be able to respond either in writing or by phone and we’ll publish the results.
However, if you are a member and think you may be involved in an age verification case you need to contact the Union’s Advice Team right away on 01234 716005. Don’t assume the issue will go away!
Lone Working and Late Opening
There is no doubt that many shops are on sites that are unsafe for staff, not least because of the problematic behaviour of some customers.
The fact is that staff are often unable to cope with threats of fraud and age verification and ordinary customers at the same time.
And lone and late working make violence, threats and verbal and physical abuse more likely.
Chains are focused, understandably, on sales and have no obviously implemented policies to protect staff. Having a policy that ticks an HR box or looks good to people looking in from the outside is one thing: having a policy that you enforce and take seriously is very different.
The fact is that many shops are in areas with high levels of criminal activity. Indeed, in some places criminals feature prominently amongst customers. The chains need clearly implemented policies to prevent their shops being used as as centres for criminal activity and to protect their staff. That protection is all too often lacking and although gambling needs to be ‘safe’ for customers, it also needs to be safe for staff.
Turning a blind eye to criminal activity on a firm’s premises is just not acceptable and neither is leaving it to shop staff to confront criminals who may be violent. Betting shops chains are going to have to step up to the mark!
We will be speaking to staff across the industry to get more evidence and will campaign directly with local authority Environmental Health Officers who are responsible for health and safety enforcement in the retail sector and offices and in specific cases with the police. We will also be raising these issues with the Gambling Commission.