Employers and employees join forces to address rising customer violence in retail

A roundtable bringing together the SDA, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), other major retail employer representatives, major retailers, and shopping centres has agreed to work to establish a tripartite retail employee safety council to address the rising incidence of customer abuse and violence and of theft.

The roundtable also agreed to:

  • Work on further steps designed to prevent customer abuse and violence
  • Develop a funding model for enhanced public awareness campaigns
  • Advocate jointly for further law reform to address assault of retail workers
  • High quality and effective training for all levels of retail staff
  • Develop informed support to reduce the impact of trauma on employees

An SDA survey of 4,600 retail and fast food workers found that 76 percent had experienced regular verbal abuse over the past 12 months while 12.5 percent had suffered physical violence – a 50 percent jump since a similar survey just two years ago.

In a recent survey conducted by the Australian Retailers Association, more than 92% of retailers surveyed said they have experienced or have had a team member experience verbal or physical assault whilst at work, over 60% of which are from small to medium businesses. Much of this aggression is experienced when a worker approaches someone caught doing something wrong, like shoplifting.

Following joint advocacy by the SDA and ARA, the South Australian and New South Wales governments have criminalised customer abuse and violence.

Other state and territory governments should follow suit without delay to address the rising scourge of customer abuse and violence.

In recent months, a liquor store employee was killed by a customer in Darwin; there have been knife attacks at DJs in Melbourne, Harris Scarfe in Tasmania and an axe attack at Keysborough in Victoria.

Quotes from Gerard Dwyer, National Secretary, the SDA the union for retail, fast food, warehouse and online retail workers:

“The SDA welcomes the sector-wide support for real action to address this epidemic of customer violence and abuse.

“The terrible attacks of recent months demonstrate the need for further measures to enhance the safety of workers and customers in the places where they work and shop.

“A sector-wide safety council would be an effective step forward, as would the other measures agreed today.

“The SDA thanks the retailers and peak organisation who took part to address an issue that affects all our members.”

Quotes from Paul Zahra, ARA Chief Executive:

“One in ten Australians work in retail, and our retail teams play a central role within our community across Australia. All retail workers have a right to feel safe at work and the wellbeing of this vital workforce has a flow on effect to the wellbeing of many others in our community. Today’s roundtable saw industry, government and the SDA in fierce alignment on overcoming the increased incidents of customer abuse and violence within retail.

“Being yelled at, spat at, punched or groped is not tolerated in any other workplace, and must not be accepted in retail,” Mr Zahra said.

“Being asked to show your receipt doesn’t give you an excuse to crack someone over the head. That’s why we want to see other states take the steps of NSW, SA and NT and toughen laws to better protect our retail workers and keep them safe.”

/Public Release. View in full here.