April 30, 2019 News No One Deserves A Serve

By Chris Gazenbeek, SDA State Secretary.

The SDA started this important campaign some 18 months ago. Our major reason for starting this campaign is very simple. Most SDA members who have worked in retail or fast food for over 12 months have been abused by a customer. This abuse has taken the form of physical, verbal and emotional abuse.

This abuse has increased over the last five years and, quite frankly, someone will get killed before too long unless we, as a community, stand up to these bullies and cowards.

In late 2017, we commenced a campaign highlighting the retail industry in the media and in December 2018 we started a similar campaign in the fast food industry.

In mid-March, I was made aware of a horrifying story which was relayed to me by one of our hard-working fast food members. His name is Ethan.

Ethan’s story:

“I have worked for a large fast food employer for seven years and I am currently working in a supervisory role. I love my job although customers often ‘look down’ on us. They tell me that I should get a real job.

I received abuse by customers a few weeks into the job as a teenager. I truly believe that every staff member who has worked with us for over three months has experienced some kind of verbal or physical abuse.

We receive abuse across the counter but ’Drive through’ is far worse. A lady threw hot coffee at me because it wasn’t the way she liked it. I’ve had soft-serves thrown at me because the customer thought there wasn’t enough in there and I’ve had dirty diapers, a used sanitary product and human waste thrown at me.

There was this case when a customer was really violent. The store was closed so the customer could not get a soft-serve. He then found a sign that had not been brought in yet and threw it through the door. He then walked in and demanded a soft-serve. The machine had already been turned off and we could not even give it to him to make him go away. The police were called and he was arrested.

I’ve been physically grabbed by customers before I managed to de-escalate the situation. I’ve received death threats by drunken customers as they come through the Drive-through. We call the police on them for drink driving.

I’m a bit older now so I can tolerate the abuse a bit more, but when I was younger it affected me a lot and made me not want to come to work. I feel like customers often target their abuse at the younger kids as they think they will get what they want because the young ones don’t know how to deal with the situation.

I’ve had team members quit their job because of customer abuse. This one girl was 16 and had only just started. She was in training and didn’t take an order correctly. The customer verbally abused her for her mistake to the point of tears. She quit the same week. I’ve probably seen a dozen colleagues quit over a similar thing.

Today, I often try to step in when younger team members are being abused. I try to protect them”.

“I joined the SDA on-line about 18 months ago as unions are the only reasons we have paid leave, sick leave etc. and they are there to look after you. For a few bucks a week it is well worth it. The union lobbies for workers’ rights.

I saw the No One Deserves A Serve ads on Facebook and Youtube. I really liked the campaign and I believe the campaign brings up an important issue”.

From Chris Gazenbeek, SDA State Secretary:

As Branch Secretary, the union is committed to the NODAS campaign. We know we will have to fight the campaign until customers see retail workers as their sons and daughters, their sisters and brothers, their mums and dads.
In other words, SDA members like Ethan deserve the respect of the public.

On a brighter note, Ethan has noticed a decline in abuse since the start of the NODAS campaign.

Employer’s responsibility

No worker should feel unsafe at work. Your employer has a responsibility to protect their employees and to provide a safe working environment. This includes dealing with customer abuse.

Your employer should:

  • Adopt a policy to make it clear that harassment of staff by customers will not be tolerated;
  • Encourage staff to inform management of any harassment and support them when it occurs;
  • Take effective action by warning customers about their conduct and banning them from the store and company if necessary.

Finally, if any member needs assistance or advice with customer abuse in their workplace, please contact the union office.