In recent news, a Wagga retailer worker, Suzy Fortington, 41, has spoken out against the abuse, threats and physical violence that she has experienced at the hands of customers. 

Having worked at various other retail stores around Wagga since she was 16 years old, she recalls the abuse steadily escalating over the past 10 years, and peaking during lockdown. She recounts stories of being yelled at, spat on, grabbed, threatened, and followed home by customers, some of whom appeared to be under the influence. There were also threats directed at her two children, telling her he knew where they lived and where they went to school.

Due to the pervasiveness of the abuse and potential harm to her family, she has since quit her job and is now having to rely on Centrelink for the first time in her life – an unfortunate choice she ultimately had to make for the safety and wellbeing of both her family, and herself.

Sadly, this is not an anomaly and is disturbingly prevalent. An industry survey had found 88 per cent of workers experienced verbal abuse from a customer in the past year, 15 per cent experienced physical customer violence, and 11 per cent experienced sexual harassment or abuse. This issue has been more recognised in recent years due to the rise in assault during COVID-19. However, it is important to note that this was a chilling reality for many workers even before COVID-19 and an issue that was not often spoken about.

“Unfortunately, while many customers were understanding of government restrictions, a significant proportion took their anger out on retail workers, with some retailers reporting up to 400 per cent increase in aggression and abuse,” said David Stout, Policy Director, National Retail Association. 

The customer is not always right – the National Retail Association is calling on Government to recognise the mass-scale of workplace abuse retail workers are facing and provide greater support to the sector through campaigns and policy reforms.

We are advocating for changes such as:

  • a fundamental shift in community attitude through awareness and education campaigns;
  • strengthened legislation for tougher trespass laws and increased powers of law enforcements;
  • assistance in upskilling and empowering retail teams to better equip individuals with the ability to confidently and safely handle incidents of abuse; and
  • a greater collaboration between Government, industry and law enforcements for retailers to effectively compliment police work and identify potentially dangerous situations – mitigating them before they escalate.

The health and wellbeing of retail workers across Australia is very important to us. We have developed a suite of resources and information through our Essential Retail website that aim to highlight the key issues and impact of abuse on retail workers, and assist in championing awareness and change. Additionally, we have developed an ‘Aggressive Customers’ short online course that is aimed to empower retail workers with the skills to resolve conflicts and appropriately handle potentially dangerous situations.

Retail represents over 1.5 million Australian workers, and every single person has the basic human right to feel safe, and empowered. 

Visit website Enrol in course