COVID, floods mean retail workers are abused regularly

Key points:

  • SA supermarket manager Natalie Elwood says employees are routinely abused
  • She says the problem is becoming worse at her Port Augusta supermarket
  • The shop workers’ union wants more legal protections for retail workers

Natalie Elwood says she has been threatened with scissors at work and gets abused more than three times a day.

The Port Augusta supermarket manager said she had also witnessed store employees being threatened with physical violence and on the receiving end of constant verbal abuse.

Recent natural disasters and COVID-related worker and stock shortages have exacerbated the disrespect.

“Personally I have been threatened with a pair of scissors, I have had threats of more physical harm and been constantly verbally abused,” Ms Elwood said.

“I’ve had a young female employee be spat on for simply doing her job.

“I had someone who was doing nightfill get chased down aisles of the supermarket by someone thrashing their fists [around] in the air.”

Security guards were employed to protect employees and patrons, however Ms Elwood said incidents seemed to be getting worse and more frequent.

“Our company is trying to protect us the best way they can, but customers can’t handle not being able to get what they want.”

Ms Elwood would like further protections put in place for her and her staff.

“More rules and regulations [are needed over] what people can and can’t do, there should be more laws in place for people to be punished for what they do,” she said.

Staff ready to resign over conditions

The union for shop workers in South Australia has called on the state government to classify retail staff as essential workers under the state’s Criminal Law Consolidation Act.

This change would open up harsher penalties for perpetrators of abuse.

SA’s Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) secretary Josh Peak believed a change in the law could encourage a change in community attitudes toward retail workers.

“It’s not just about the penalty or the fines, it’s about creating a community dialogue,” Mr Peak said.

“Sending a really clear message to the community that retail workers are not to be attacked or abused at work,” Mr Peak said.

Ms Elwood said abuse could come from something as simple as not having the right product in stock for the customer.

Some of her staff have considered resigning, she said.

“We don’t deserve this at all. Some of my staff are ready to pack it in,” Ms Elwood said.

Mr Peak said retail workers were often young and vulnerable and should not have to fear going to work.

“People shouldn’t have to dread going to work behind a check-out, thinking about who might spit or swear at them,” he said.

The ABC has contacted industrial relations minister Rob Lucas for comment.


Extracted from ABC

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