PrimarkRespect for Shopworkers’ Week ended on Friday, just prior to the time of year when even the most reluctant among us start to venture into the hallowed halls of personal consumer capitalism for glitter, baubles and iPad 2s.

During the week itself, Primark announced it has had almost 4,500 people apply for the 500-odd positions available in its new flagship Princes Street store in Edinburgh, part of the council’s ‘string of pearls’ vision for the city’s premier street.

Notwithstanding the closest you’ll get to pearls in Primark will be white gauzy plastic and cost about £2.50 (I know, because they’re one of my favourite pieces of costume jewellery), retail is crucial to the Scottish economy. It’s one of the few sectors still creating jobs, as the oversubscription for positions at Primark shows. The final report, back in March, of research into Assessing the Contribution of Retailing in Scotland, commissioned by Scottish Government, found retail turnover climbed 57% between 1998 and 2008. It now accounts for 5% of Scotland’s gross value added – a measure of GDP in real terms – 10% of its turnover and 10% of employment.

But retail also accounts for a notable proportion of Scotland’s low wage problem. 59% of shopworkers are part-time, 62% are female, half are under 30 and the average weekly salary is £258 – 56% of the Scottish average across all sectors. Together with the hospitality sector, retail across the whole of the UK accounts for almost half of all minimum wage jobs. And the situation isn’t likely to change. Over 2 in 5 of all retail employers have to increase their bottom pay level whenever the minimum wage increases, implying a significant number of retail employees are paid at the very legal minimum. In giving evidence to the Low Pay Commission this month, the Association of Convenience Stores warned further minimum wage increases will result in job losses and decreased hours for staff.

Pay isn’t the only issue. Respect for Shopworkers’ Week, organised by the trade union USDAW, focused on its Freedom from Fear campaign, to prevent violence, threats and abuse against shop workers. But it’s hard to believe the Scottish Government prioritises shop workers. Having dismissed Hugh Henry’s Workers (Aggravated Offences) Scotland private member’s Bill by disagreeing with its fundamental principle last December, the SNP prevented any further consideration of the Bill’s merits.  Henry sought to provide a stiffer sentence to anyone assaulting a worker in the course of their duties, including shop workers. The previous Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition weren’t much better, by holding in reserve the extension of powers preventing larger stores opening on Christmas Day to include New Year’s Day as well, as part of Karen Whitefield’s Christmas Day and New Year’s Day Trading (Scotland) Act.

A glimmer of hope is the Scottish Government’s desire to extend the living wage beyond the civil service. A living wage is not just deserved by public sector workers, and compelling the private sector to make the just minimum a realistic reflection of the cost of living for workers in retail is a critical step towards improving low pay across the board.

And there’s an action you can take yourself. Why not resolve this Christmas, and afterwards, to pay heed to what Henry tried to achieve. Be nice, and don’t take out your festive shopping induced fury on the £6.08-an hour worker serving you. Even if that wily Christmas shopper in front just snaffled the last string of Primark pearls.