It’s the festive season, and it can be easy to get a little hot under the collar. You’ve got Christmas carols in your head, you’re stuck on gift ideas and the queues at the shops are ridiculous. But hold up, don’t take that anger out when you get to the counter.
The SDA, the union that covers retail and fast food staff, is currently running the No One Deserves a Serve campaign. This aims to stamp out verbal, physical and sexual abuse against workers in public-facing positions.
Their research involving 6,000 fast food and retail workers has found that over 85% of them are being abused while they work, with nearly a quarter experiencing this weekly.
Nearly 75% of those who took part in the survey were women, while 41% were 17 or younger. Clearly, this is an issue that disproportionately affects women and young workers, who are often working in casual positions. (Remember our campaign at Honey Birdette?)
‘At my restaurant a 16-year-old girl grabbed a staff member in a head lock and smashed a chicken burger into their face because it was cold,’ a fast food worker, Katrina, said.
‘Customers have even picked up and thrown stools at staff members over the smallest things, it’s gotten completely out of control.’
Head of the NSW branch of the SDA, Bernie Smith, told Triple J Hack last year that it’s important to remember that ‘abuse in the workplace is the same as verbal or physical abuse on the street.
Both may be treated as assault by the police.’
No, the customer is not always right. Some customers are jerks.
As workplaces are often private property, customers can be removed or permanently banned from the store if their behaviour persists. Employers need to be supportive of their employees when they report such incidents, both for their own safety and so that customers do not feel emboldened by getting away with this behaviour.
It’s also just basic occupational health and safety. Your employer has a legal obligation to keep you safe at work – and work won’t be safe if you’re facing regular threats to your wellbeing from customers.
There are proactive things that your workplace can, and should, do. These include employing more staff or security to reduce the risk of abuse, enforcing policies of reporting, removing and banning abusive customers, as well as counselling or breaks when abuse does happen.
If your employer isn't taking adequate steps to address a hazard, it's time to take action. Workers in any industry who have health and safety concerns have the right to elect a Health and Safety representative (HSR). Your HSR has a whole range of powers to compel an employer to act!
Alternatively, if you believe that you’re the victim of harassment and your employer is not dealing with it appropriately, give the Young Workers Centre a call on 1800 714 754.
And remember, treat your retail workers with kindness – you never know what they’ve put up with today!