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Retailers see rise in workplace safety issues

Retailers have reported a 400 per cent increase in aggression and abuse following customer anger at retail restrictions, according to a new report from the National Retail Association (NRA).

The NRA’s Health and Wellbeing of Australian Retail Workers report reveals new challenges facing retail staff during the Covid-19 crisis as well as the longer-term wellbeing struggles of the country’s second largest workforce.

“The NRA’s 28,000 membership base has relayed to us the dramatic rise in workplace safety issues,” said NRA CEO Dominique Lamb, adding that some retailers have reported a rise in aggressive behaviour and abuse due to customer anger at the restrictions imposed by the government to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Lamb said retail workers are also experiencing increased retail crime and related violence, with over 85 per cent experiencing verbal or physical abuse while trying to prevent crime.

“Many business owners have been forced to employ security guards and crowd controllers to ensure social distancing measures are followed,” she said.

The report reveals the need to address a wide range of issues relating to retail workers, such as customer abuse, retail crime, domestic and family violence and poor lifestyle choices.

Lamb said Australia’s 1.5 million retail workers have been at the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic, weathering increased risk, stress and abuse, and that they should be classified as frontline essential workers.

“We’d like to see the government recognise retailers as an essential frontline service and implement a Retail Resilience Program to educate workers on how to cope during the pandemic,” she said. “Areas that require urgent attention include mental health issues, high smoking rates and exposure to violent crime at work.”

Lamb said NRA members are reporting high levels of stress and anxiety leading to mental health issues and an increase in poor lifestyle choices such as smoking.

Lamb said the NRA is seeking measures that assist retail staff in making better lifestyle choices.

“This includes combatting the alarmingly high rate of smoking among retail employees by exploring nicotine-based smoke-free alternatives that help transition people away from traditional cigarettes.”

According to Lamb, the NRA also takes very seriously its commitment to women, who make up 55 per cent of the retail workforce.

“That’s why we have outlined in our report policies to support the 100,000 retail workers who are currently experiencing domestic and family violence.”

Lamb said the National Retail Association is eager to work with the government on solutions and strategies to address these serious issues.

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