Customer Abuse and Violence Must Stop
By Chris Gazenbeek,
Toowoomba has been in the media recently due to a spike in youth crime in the area, which has led to a corresponding spike in customer violence and abuse in local retailers. A glaring example of this, which was reported on national news, is the case of a 19-year-old Woolworths worker in Toowoomba who was viciously attacked by a customer on February 17, 2023, without warning.
The incident occurred in front of many customers who looked on in horror as the young worker struggled with the abusive customer. While it is unclear what prompted the incident, it is suggested that the worker had requested the customer to vacate the store moments prior to the incident.
The incident is now a matter of police investigation, but the reality is that a young worker was placed at risk due to the lack of sufficient protections or powers to ban an abusive person.
The worker was left with a facial injury, and many store employees are now hesitant to work, especially during late shifts.
SDA Representatives, including the SDA Workplace Health and Safety Officer visited the store not long after
the incident to check in on members and ensure there had been an appropriate response by store management.
The SDA met with the SDA Shop Steward for the store, as well as the store Duty Manager to discuss steps that had been taken, or could be taken to ensure workers’ safety. Representatives first asked if the store had introduced store security, especially on Friday evenings when the incident rate is high. While there was no immediate response, it was later confirmed that the store would be putting on a security guard starting that evening.
This was met with great relief from the staff, who face customer abuse and violence so often that it has almost become normalised. The feedback from members is that while on-site security is a good start, it’s common knowledge in the community that security guards are only there to keep the peace, not enforce the rules. While this is a good start, it’s not the end solution to the problem.
It was also confirmed that the store has increased team member training on threatening situations and increased the presence of managers in the evening. The centre has now also implemented a mobile police beat and extra centre security.
There is no simple answer to ending customer abuse and violence, and it will never be completely eradicated. However, there are many strategies that workplaces can implement to decrease the regularity and severity of violent attacks by customers. These strategies include, but are not
- Messaging and Awareness – signage, audio, badges – all to remind customers to stay calm when they are stressed.
- Training – so staff can learn de-escalating techniques for when the customer is becoming aggravated.
- Body Cams – just the threat of being recorded is often enough to stop an escalation.
- Security – it’s not the job of retail and fast food staff to deal with aggravated persons. Having a security presence on-site with the authority to deal with offending customers.
- Procedures so that offending customers can be banned from stores permanently.
- Co-operation with police and centre security.
The SDA has made a submission to the Queensland Parliament Economics and Governance Committee in relation to the Strengthening Community Safety Bill 2023 seeking legislative intervention to establish higher penalties and punishments for offences against retail and fast food workers in the course of their duties. This would serve as a preventative measure, as offenders would face harsher penalties for abusing someone just trying to do their job.