April 8, 2019 News

By Chris Gazenbeek, SDA State Secretary

In late December/early January, the union ramped up its No One Deserves a Serve Campaign. We flooded the airwaves and social media with advertisements which highlighted the abuse our fast food members experience every day of the week. As a result, media organisations interviewed several of our members and they were able to look down the camera and tell the viewer in their own words how customers are becoming more violent and more abusive. Members have been spat upon, kicked, punched, had objects thrown at them and in some cases, had to seal themselves away from drug and alcohol fuelled violence. Their graphic real life stories resonated with the wider public and there is no doubt in my mind that if our campaign stopped one attack upon our members, then the advertising blitz was a success.

Over my Christmas break, I had the opportunity to catch up with the wider family, have a few barbeques with friends, enjoy a quiet beer and just relax. I love having a chat and several times the conversation focused on the ads we ran on the No One Deserves a Serve Campaign. Not one person disagreed with the sentiments of the campaign; in fact, they fully supported it.

Before long, the conversation steered to workers in other industries who have been subjected to the same abuse as our members. In the space of 30 minutes, we discussed four other examples.

Indications of Abuse in Other Industries

In hospital emergency departments, there are now security guards to deal with unruly and obnoxious behaviour from patients. I learnt that as recently as four weeks ago, a drug-affected woman was so rude and aggressive towards the emergency personnel in the RBWH that five security guards were needed to pacify her and calm her down. The drug ‘Ice’ has a lot to answer for.

There are now signs in ambulances which state that ‘no abuse directed towards the paramedics will be tolerated’.

It is not uncommon for staff taking blood at QML outlets to be abused by customers. For example, there is a sign up at the QML Runaway Bay outlet which clearly states that violence towards QML staff is unacceptable.

During my leave, I took some rubbish to the local refuse centre. I was surprised to see huge signs stating that abuse and violence directed towards Council Staff would not be tolerated and would result in the abusers being unable to unload their rubbish.

When I returned from my leave, I discussed my experiences with my work colleagues. In the last six months, the union office has received an increasing number of enquiries from members regarding our campaign. Members have reported customer abuse and they have wanted to know more about their rights when they are physically assaulted or verbally abused. Members have also wanted, to know how they will be treated if, while trying to stop a theft, they are injured. Will they face disciplinary proceedings?

My Advice

If members are subject to physical assault or verbal abuse, they are advised to immediately apply for workers’ compensation. This sort of injury is no different to, for example, a manual handling injury. If work causes or is a contributing factor to the injury whether the injury is seen or unseen, members are advised to immediately apply for workers’ compensation and see their family doctor. Because the whole area of workers’ compensation can be a legal minefield, members are strongly advised to immediately contact the union office for FREE expert guidance and advice.

The issue of theft is more complex. As part of their duties, employees can be asked by management to check customers’ shopping bags. However, I remind all members that they are not security guards.
Senior management of the retail companies authorised the introduction of self-scanning. Customer theft has increased as a result of this initiative. This, however, does not mean that more pressure should be placed on our members to stop the theft. Companies need to increase security staff to apprehend the thieves and employ more register operators to deter would-be thieves.
It is interesting to note that after an incident where a member gave chase to a thief, head office suggested that she should not have chased the offender and then would not have been subjected to disciplinary proceedings. We strongly defended our member. Her name was subsequently cleared and she received an apology. She filled in an Incident Report form and has now applied for workers’ compensation.

Valuable Lessons So Far

  • Don’t chase thieves;
  • Customers must not receive financial rewards for their misbehaviour. If this is still happening in your workplace, please advise the union office;
  • Members should apply for workers’ compensation if and when they are subjected to customer abuse;
  • Members are strongly encouraged to seek union advice if and when they apply for workers’ compensation;
  • The SDA will always assist SDA members. Non-members will have to fight their battles on their own;
  • The Customer is often wrong.

The on-going Campaign

The SDA’s No One Deserves a Serve Campaign is a long campaign. It has the full support of our members and the wider public. Importantly, we are not alone in this campaign. Other unions have become involved and the issue of customer abuse is not isolated to the retail and fast food industries.

Further meetings have been planned with the leading players in retail and fast food. Much work needs to be done and members will continue to be advised as developments occur.
For me, the issue is very simple. Our members need their jobs so as they can provide for themselves and their families. All they want to do is to come to work, be left alone and not be abused or threatened by the public.

This is not too much to expect.