Most of us, at some point in time, have worked in retail or fast food. Probably a bunch of us still do. If you haven’t, then I can only assume you were a baby genius that went straight into trading stocks after school, or simply have too much money and really generous parents.
So it stands to reason that most of us have been abused in the course of doing our damn jobs, or know someone who has.
Research by the Shop Distributive & Allied Employees Association (SDA) – the union for retail, fast-food and warehousing workers – found that over 85 percent of works in these industries have experienced abuse at work, and a quarter of the 6,000 respondents said they’d experienced abuse at least once a week.
The abuse isn’t always limited to verbal, either. 14 percent of respondents said they’d experienced physical violence from a customer, while 12 percent said the incident of abuse or violence had been sexual in nature.
It’s why the union is today launching a campaign to combat abuse in the workplace, and develop practical workplace solutions to protect workers.
“Imagine going to work every day knowing you will probably be abused,” said SDA National Secretary Gerard Dwyer. “That’s the reality for thousands of Australian retail and fast food workers and it’s completely unacceptable, not just at Christmas but all year round.”
Workers have shared horrific stories of the abuse and physical violence they’ve faced; one worker was held up with a syringe, while another was grabbed by the throat and choked against a wall.
“I have had customers throw products at me for simple things, such as a product is out of stock,” one worker said. “I’ve had my face spat in, slapped across the face and had one person throw a punch at me and miss (I dodged). It becomes second nature to know how to defend yourself, even when you’re just selling groceries and providing an everyday service.”
One bottle shop worker described how they were punched in the face by a young male after they refused to sell alcohol to him and his friends.
“I’ve had a group of young boys harass customers, staff and myself by throwing rotten fruit at us,” they continued. “I’ve been spat on during a theft incident. I’ve had people threaten to harm me and my staff after we’ve refused service due to intoxication.”
— Australian Unions (@unionsaustralia) December 13, 2017
Others told stories of sexual assault, with one worker saying she had her “bottom grabbed, held against by multiple different people by the waist, my chest leered at and touched, [and] followed around the store.”
And who’s bearing the brunt of the abuse? Female cashiers. Almost three quarters (74 percent) of respondents were women, and 65 percent of respondents worked in front end services (like cashiers and registers).
Alarmingly, just over half (51 percent) of respondents said that no action was taken after they reported an incident.
“The fact is, the customer is not always right. Abusing retail and fast food workers is wrong. No-one deserves a serve while they are just trying to do their job,” said Dwyer.
“This Christmas we’re calling on customers to check their behaviour before they get to the checkout.”
“In addition to this major public awareness campaign to change public attitudes and behaviour, the SDA is looking drive industry changes to ensure that customers can’t continue this behaviour and build better protections for retail and fast food workers.”
Be Nicer To Retail Workers 2K18, also known as: stop being an incredibly shitty human to people just doing their job.Image: SDA