Young Retail Workers Are Copping Horrendous Abuse From Customers Over COVID Rules

"Some absolute mongrel pushed a staff member down the escalator. He was just making sure people checked in."


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On top of the pressures of Black Friday sales, retail is feeling the heat of customer hostility. Since lockdowns began lifting across the country and stores reopened, a new pressure presented itself — the stress and fear of enforcing COVID safety regulations from volatile shoppers.

This weekend alone, it’s projected that $3.6 billion will be spent in stores, with heightened foot traffic stepping through brick-and-mortar shopfronts. But with more customers comes more opportunity for employees to be abused and harassed.

“Our members have reported thousands of incidents of customer aggression, including many acts of significant violence towards retail staff,” said Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra in an open letter to Victorian Premier Dan Andrews. From Friday, unvaccinated individuals have been banned from entering non-essential retail venues, where they’d previously been allowed to shop when lockdown ended in the state in October.

Copping the flack year-round are young people, with over 30 percent of the industry being manned by employees aged 15 to 24-years-olds and the industry being one of the largest employers of the age group in the country.

Zahra said that in this past week alone, retail staff have been beaten up, have had shopping trolleys hurled at them, and in one instance, have even seen boiling coffee being thrown at them. “Not only does this pose serious mental health risks, it also makes it extremely difficult for retailers to operate during the busiest shopping season of the year,” he said.

It’s a story shared by employees across the country. A coinciding report released on Friday detailing customer relations by the University of Sydney and Australian National Uni found that nearly 60 percent of respondents noticed an increase in customer abuse during the pandemic.

“Workers feel disrespected and report that they have been on the receiving end of disrespectful treatment, threatening behaviour and bad manners from retail customers.  This was especially the case for women, young workers and culturally and linguistically diverse workers,” said report co-author Professor Rae Cooper.

“As we come into the Christmas season it is worth a reminder that the mostly young, often low paid and highly feminised retail workforce should not bear the brunt of customer abuse. Managers and employers should be taking a zero tolerance approach to poor treatment of their staff.”