SDA: Thousands of retail workers suffering abuse

for-retail-abuse-storyThe Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) has called on retailers and the public to consider the welfare of retail staff, following concern that an increasing number of retail employees are suffering abuse from customers.

According to an online survey of more than 5000 retail workers released by the SDA earlier this week, 44 per cent of employees have experienced customer violence or abuse in the last 12 months.

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The union undertook the survey after receiving an increasing number of complaints from members during their National Health and Safety Week campaigns in recent years and has now indicated that it will undertake a more in-depth survey into the behaviour, which will run until the end of January 2017.

“[The] follow up in-depth survey aims to understand the nature, severity, regularity and geographic location of incidents,” SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer told Inside Retail Weekly. “This ranges from constant verbal abuse with its detrimental impacts to violent assaults.”

“We are aware that customer abuse happens in the smallest country towns, regional centres and across our major cities.”

Abuse reports from employees who have spoken to the media in the days since the survey was made public include being spat on, having stock thrown at them and being hospitalised after physical assault.

The union has called on retailers to support their “keep cool over Christmas campaign’, which aims to raise awareness about the issue in the lead up to the release of their more detailed survey.

“No form of abuse of retail and fast food staff is acceptable and the employer’s policies should reflect that,” Dwyer said.

“Employers should be sensitive to the fact that many of their staff are in their very first job and need the firm support of their managers and senior staff in dealing with such incidents in-store.”

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) chief Russell Zimmerman says that retailers have a crucial role to play in ensuring staff members are safe at work and have the tools to deal with abusive customers.

“The most important thing is that retailers need to provide training to their employees,” Zimmerman told IRW.

“We’ve seen some pretty bad cases where people have gone to shops and destroyed retailers’ businesses by getting upset.

“All you can do is train your staff and make sure that you give them the best tools that you can to deal with these issues. If a customer is going to get upset, you’ve really just got to try and diffuse the situation,” he continued.

Zimmerman stressed that ultimately, solutions need to be retailer-specific, but pointed out that fast food workers are particularly vulnerable as a result of the fast-paced high volume trading conditions.

“There’s no clear cut model for this at all. The best training won’t solve everything, but you’ve got to understand what’s right for your business.

“If you’re running a boutique that sells a high cost product at a low volume, you’re probably less likely to have it happen than if you are selling fast food,” Zimmerman explained.

Women’s lingerie retailer Honey Birdette has recently come under criticism for its alleged improper handling of abuse claims made by its staff members, who have claimed that they’ve been sexually harassed while on the job.

An online petition backed by the Young Workers Centre has garnered more than 5,000 signatures calling for the retailer to change their dress code and reform their training practices for employees.

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