Australia’s peak retail body, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) are urging state and territory governments across the country to implement tougher penalties for people who assault retail workers.
Last year, the South Australian Government introduced a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment for people convicted of basic assault against a retail worker on the job and seven years when the assault causes harm. Recently, the New South Wales Opposition also committed to implementing harsher penalties if they win government at this month’s state election.
ARA CEO Paul Zahra said customer aggression – including assaults – has remained prevalent post-pandemic, prompting the need for government intervention.
“Customer aggression has been an ongoing challenge for frontline staff. We saw a big rise in the number of customers who chose to unleash their frustrations on retail staff during the pandemic. We expected this to subside when restrictions lifted – but it simply hasn’t,” Mr Zahra said.
“In many states across Australia, deterrence is lacking. Aggressive behaviour in the form of assault has a severe impact on the health and wellbeing of frontline retail staff but, importantly, it’s also a criminal act and it must be treated as such.
“The rise of anti-social behaviour is also a concern for us. A crime does not need to have been committed in order for physical or mental harm to be done to retail workers and so we also need the community to play their part in stamping out unacceptable behaviour,” said Mr Zahra.
“These workers should not be abused simply for doing their job and ensuring shoppers get the food they need and the other essentials of life,” said SDA National Secretary Gerard Dwyer. They are essential workers and deserve customer support. No one deserves a serve. Shoppers should check themselves before they check out.”
The ARA and SDA have commended reforms implemented in South Australia last year and welcomes the commitment from the New South Wales Opposition, which is promising.
“We are calling on all states and territories to adopt a similar approach to aggressive behaviour starting in NSW – irrespective of who wins the state election,” said Mr Zahra.
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.