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Retailers pledge to end customer abuse of staff

Australia’s biggest retailers including Coles, Aldi and Woolworths, have united with industry groups, regulators and government in a bid to end customer abuse of staff.

The industry pledge, led by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) aims to create a safer environment for retail workers, after a recent report shone a light on abuse in the sector.

In an SDA survey in December last year, 87 per cent of respondents said that they had experienced verbal abuse or aggressive behaviour.

The statement encourages employers to facilitate the reporting of all forms of customer abuse and violence towards workers.

Workers are subjected to all kinds of shocking abuse from customers, including verbal, physical and sexual abuse,” Bernie Smith, NSW/ACT secretary of the SDA told Inside FMCG.

“Any type of abuse on the job is completely unacceptable, and when you have 85 per cent of a workforce reporting they have been subjected to verbal abuse from a customer and 14 per cent reporting physical violence – you know we’ve got a crisis on our hands.”

She pointed to busy periods such as the lead up to Christmas and periods of change in stores as particularly bad times for customer abuse, “but frankly every day is a bad day,” she said.

“Customer abuse is at crisis levels and it needs to be addressed urgently. Employers need to be taking a zero tolerance approach towards customer abuse.”

Bakers Delight, Myer, David Jones, The Reject Shop, National Retailers Association and the Australian Retailers Association are among the 30+ signatories.

National Retailers Association CEO Dominique Lamb said that NRA members are committed to ensuring that workers operate in a safe environment, with a culture of “mutual respect between employee and customer”.

“Our members cannot succeed without hardworking and dedicated employees, that’s why we’re proud to stand with other industry stakeholders in ending customer abuse towards workers,” she said.

“It’s greatly concerning that 78 per cent of retailers who the NRA has surveyed across Australia believe that abuse towards workers is increasing. Employers have an important role to play in providing workplaces that see their workers treated with basic dignity and the NRA is committed to doing its part in achieving this.”

A spokesperson for Woolworths told Inside FMCG that it was joining the pledge because the safety of workers is a priority.

“The safety and wellbeing of team members is our priority and our teams should not have to accept customer abuse in any circumstance. We are committed to supporting the Retail & Fast Food Industry Statement to better protect and support our team members.”

The SDA will be out in stores across Australia this week to talk to workers about health and safety at work and is calling on all employers to sign the statement.

“We simply can’t sit back and allow workers to be subjected to abuse day after day. It’s great to see employers starting to take action to address the problem,” Smith added.

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