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Harassment and abuse of Australian retail workers increases amid pandemic stress

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The shocking scale of harassment and abuse suffered by retail staff in Australia during the pandemic has been laid bare in a startling report.

The survey, lead by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), found that 59 per cent of frontline retail workers experienced some form of abuse during Covid in 2021.

And the behaviour of taunting, yelling at and threatening service staff appears to be on the rise.

Speaking to Radio National on Monday, SDA head Gerard Dwyer said the association had recorded a marked increase in abuse of retail staff since before the Covid-19 outbreak.

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“The levels of customer abuse are unsatisfactory to begin with, but then when you put the pressures of the pandemic over the top – in every jurisdiction with which we surveyed, we saw an increase in customer abuse,” Mr Dwyer said.

“These people are at work and everyone is entitled to a safe workplace. When people start swearing, abusing spitting, it‘s obviously not safe, and it’s not good enough.”

14 Aug 2003  Generic - an angry woman shopper carrying lots of bags. shopping yelling annoyed frustrated
Camera IconShop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association head Gerard Dwyer said there had been an increase in the abuse of retail staff compared to pre-pandemic times. Credit: News Corp Australia

Minorities and vulnerable groups appear to be bearing the brunt of shoppers’ wrath with women and non-white workers experiencing the highest levels of customer abuse.

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“Unfortunately, people seem to take what they regard as easy targets,” Mr Dwyer said.

“Young workers were disproportionately found to be suffering more abuse, also female workers, and also workers who come from a different linguistic backgrounds.”

The SDA says it is worried that things will only get worse moving into the Christmas period as shoppers surge in numbers and average stress levels

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Woman purchasing clothes with credit card
Camera IconWoman paying with credit card for purchase at clothes showroom. Finance and non-cash transaction concept Credit: News Regional Media

Mr Dwyer urged Australians to think twice before taking out their frustrations on retail staff over the upcoming holiday season.

“These workers served this community with great distinction during the pandemic – the supermarket workers they were there everyday in a very dangerous environment at the beginning of this pandemic,” he said.

“They served the community, it’s now the community’s turn to give it back to them in terms of appropriate respect.”

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