Customer abuse: a worldwide phenomenon

May 24, 2021 Member News News

By Chris Gazenbeek,
SDA Secretary.

The SDA’s ‘No One Deserves a Serve’ campaign has drawn high praise from SDA members, many retailers, media outlets, other trade unions and has now been recognised globally. Unfortunately customer abuse is not restricted to Australia as this abuse occurs worldwide.

The SDA’s campaign was formally launched three years ago and whilst we have seen some improvements in customer behaviour, we have a long way to go.

The poor behaviour during COVID-19 has shone a brighter light on what was already an unacceptable abuse in retail stores and fast food outlets. We have all seen in our own workplaces and in media reports where customers have abused staff over shortages, the foul act of spitting on workers, customers jumping counters to both verbally and physically abuse staff and so on.
On a brighter note, there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that some customers are supporting our frontline members by telling abusive customers to ‘pull their head in’ when they start abusing retail and fast food workers.

An important part of the campaign has been to get the support from the retailers and I applaud those retailers who have jumped on board. In the last 18-24 months we have seen:

  • clear signage in workplaces stating that abuse won’t be tolerated in this workplace;
  • training of staff and management;
  • increasing public awareness; and
  • customers seeing SDA badges stating that I am, for example, someone’s daughter, son or grandchild.

The SDA once again calls on all members to report customer abuse because there is no excuse for abuse. If the customer has left your workplace, you can still report the obnoxious behaviour. The quality of CCTV footage in most major retail stores and fast food outlets means offending customers can be identified.

Trade Union coordination

For over 50 years the SDA has had formal links with retail unions around the world. In that time, we have shared information and coordinated campaigns on matters such as trading hours, automation, unionism in developing countries and the penetration of multinational retailers such as Amazon, IKEA, ALDI and H&M.

Because of the COVID pandemic, information has been shared far and wide because, sadly, customer abuse is not just confined to Australia.

Scottish politicians have made a difference

Because of our sister union’s efforts in the UK, new legislation has been passed to protect Scottish shop workers from abuse from customers. The Protection of Workers Bill will make it a new specific offence to assault, abuse or threaten staff.

The politician behind the bill, Labour’s Daniel Johnson, said attacks on retail workers had increased during the COVID pandemic. “Shop staff have been spat at for asking customers to socially distance, and stock has been smashed in retaliation for item limits being imposed.

“Violence, threats and abuse should not be just part of anyone’s job.”

Queensland State Government acts

It is pleasing to advise members that the Queensland Government has watched, observed and listened to the SDA’s ‘No One Deserves A Serve Campaign’ and has also been horrified at the abuse which our members have copped particularly during COVID.

The SDA has long argued that customers who abuse retail and fast food workers should face criminal charges. We need the Queensland parliament to pass strong laws so that the perpetrators of such abuse fully understand that there are criminal consequences for their appalling behaviour.

The Union was pleased that the state government recently provided protections for retail and fast food workers by ensuring anyone that threatened to spit, cough or sneeze at an employee could be fined and could face up to six months behind bars under the temporary directive.

It was further reported in the Sunday Mail on 7.3.21 that State Attorney-General, Shannon Fentiman, said that assault in the workplace was never acceptable and was a crime under the Criminal Code Act. Ms Fentiman then added the following statement, “We have an election commitment to ensure that if someone is a victim of assault because of their occupation, the court must treat it as an aggravating factor when sentencing”.

The SDA welcomes this statement by the Attorney-General because it reflects what the SDA has argued for on behalf of our members over recent years.

Finally, we all know that the ‘No One Deserves A Serve’ campaign has a long way to go. We note that politicians of all persuasions have recently demanded that their own workplaces should be safer places to work in. Similarly, retail and fast food workers demand the same. SDA members should not have to put up with feral behaviour from customers and the SDA will continue to push politicians of all persuasions to introduce and pass laws to make retail and fast food workplaces safer.