Australia’s peak retail body, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) are pleading for civility and mutual respect amid a spike in customer aggression throughout the frenetic Christmas shopping period.
Amid labour shortages across the sector, retail staff are working extremely hard to deliver the best Christmas shopping experience possible. This, coupled with the enormous pressure retailers are already under due to supply chain issues and the intensity of festive trading, is creating unprecedented levels of anxiety.
Australian Retailers Association, CEO Paul Zahra hopes that mutual respect can be established between shoppers and staff.
“A cocktail of lingering labour shortages, a frenetic Christmas period and a spike in customer aggression is truly a recipe for disaster,” Mr Zahra said.
“We must remember that these workers are sacrificing precious time in the holiday season to ensure shoppers can treat their loved ones – and with staff shortages and frenzied demand, there’s obviously going to be some hiccups and longer queues particularly in the last week before Christmas day.
“Unfortunately, retailers have been subjected to more than their fair share of aggression and vitriol during the pandemic. We would have hoped for that to subside by now.
“Nobody deserves to cop a spray for doing their job. We are simply pleading for mutual respect between staff and shoppers. Christmas should be a time of peace and joy for all.
“I just hope that people remember a lot of these staff are also young, in their first jobs, and we want them to have a pleasant and encouraging experience as they begin their working life.”
Reported instances in retail stores during Christmas trading this year include:
- A worker threatened with physical violence and threats made against their life
- A retail worker flashed by a customer at work
- Customers becoming abusive when denied discounts
- A customer pulling a knife on a staff member
- A customer throwing a product at a staff member because their refund was refused.
SDA National Secretary, Gerard Dwyer said there is no excuse for abusing retail and fast-food workers.
“We know that Christmas is always a busy time for everyone, as the pressure builds up getting ready for end of season festivities. But even with seasonal stress, there’s just no excuse for abusing retail and fast-food workers. No one deserves to turn up to work with the fear of being abused.”
“The union for retail and fast-food workers asks everyone to avoid taking out their frustrations on workers – who are only there to assist you and help improve your experience.
“Workers should never have to tolerate abuse on the job. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. The experience of abuse only leaves workers feeling intimidated and cornered.
“We’ve also found young workers, women and workers from diverse linguistic backgrounds can be disproportionately singled out for mistreatment.
“This Christmas season, make sure to stay calm and show kindness to workers and fellow shoppers – and make it a joyful season for everyone.”
In 2017, the SDA launched a major national campaign ‘No One Deserves a Serve’ to stop the abuse and violence towards retail and fast food workers by customers. This followed research carried out by the SDA, involving 6,000 retail and fast food workers which found that over 85% of them had experienced abuse from customers at work.
The ARA also launched the #ShopRespectfully campaign, a series of printable posters for retailers to encourage safe and respectful shopping during this stressful time.