Customer abuse is not okay

We live in a fast-paced world. People are increasingly time poor and stressed… and at times just plain rude.

But there’s no excuse for the increasing amount of physical and verbal abuse that customers are directing at retail and fast food staff.

Over the past few years SDA members have been reporting an increase in the frequency and type of customer abuse they are dealing with on daily basis. 

This includes customers swearing, yelling, hitting, spitting and threatening staff.

Carlo, a senior team member at a hardware store was yelled at, sworn at and screamed at by a customer for not knowing the answer to a technical question. While he was trying to find the answer, the customer kicked the product and screamed at Carlo, calling him obscene names and belittling him.

Rebecca, who works on front end service, has been spat on, had tins thrown at her and has even had a customer threaten to find out where she lives so they could come and ‘get her at home’.

Sadly, thousands of retail and fast food workers across Australia go to work each day knowing they will probably be abused. In fact, over 85% of workers are being abused while they work – that’s not okay!

Retail and fast food workers are trained and conditioned to provide good customer service, with the adage that ‘the customer is always right’. This does not extend to tolerating verbal or physical abuse however.

Our members are increasingly experiencing a disturbing trend where disgruntled customers feel it’s acceptable to abuse staff. Our members also tell us that customers are often rewarded and compensated (i.e. in gift vouchers and product) by management when they abuse staff.

Customer abuse can impact workers’ physical and psychological health; and is a serious health and safety concern for retail and fast food workers across the country.

What to do if you experience customer abuse at work?

If you or a colleague experience customer abuse in the workplace ensure you report it to your manager and where appropriate, log it in the incident report log with your safety officer.

Everyone has the right to a safe work environment.

Your employer has a duty of care to provide a safe and healthy workplace. Ensure that you and your colleagues are familiar with the procedures and policies surrounding customer abuse.

Customer abuse is Work Health and Safety issue. If there are no procedures in place in your workplace to deal with abusive or violent customers, talk to your safety committee and SDA Union Delegate.

Most larger employers provide counselling services for staff. If you have suffered customer abuse and feel you need to talk to a counsellor, discuss this with your employer.

What needs to change?

Late in 2017, the SDA launched a major public awareness campaign ‘No One Deserves a Serve’ to stop abuse and violence towards retail and fast food workers.

The national campaign, which includes television, radio, digital and outdoor advertising, was launched just before Christmas – an extremely busy time of peak customer trade when abuse and violence usually escalates.

The campaign aims to change public attitudes and behavior by encouraging members of the public to see the major role they have to play in ceasing customer abuse. It asks customers to check their behavior before they get to the checkout because NO ONE DESERVES A SERVE.

The campaign was launched following SDA research involving 6,000 retail and fast food workers which found that over 85% of them had experienced abuse from customers at work.

More than half (65%) of the respondents worked on cashier/front end/service/registers, and most (74%) were female.

The SDA is looking to drive industry changes to ensure customers cannot continue this behaviour. We’re working with members, delegates and employers to develop real, practical workplace solutions to address customer abuse and to protect retail and fast food workers.

You can help

Customer abuse is wrong. No-one deserves a serve while they are just trying to do their job.

You can help raise community awareness and be a part of the change that is needed to stop to this widespread behavior.

Here’s how you can help change the lives of retail and fast food staff:

  • Have conversations in the workplace and share the message
  • Talk to your Union Delegates
  • Report any customer abuse incidents to your manager and/or safety officer
  • Support the SDA’s customer abuse campaign

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