New report details the pandemic pressures on retail’s workforce

Retail and fast-food workers across Australia have seen their working hours and job security fall over the course of the pandemic, alongside an uptick in customer aggression, according to a joint report by the Australian National University and the University of Sydney.

The Pandemic Pressures report found that 49 per cent of retail workers reported their job security had fallen – worse among women and Australians who speak a different language at home – throughout COVID-19, as well as 51 per cent of frontline workers.

Around half of workers surveyed also saw working hours had been cut, with women, younger Australians, frontline and casual workers the worst affected.

And, as we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, the “quality of customer interactions” has also dropped, said 64 per cent of frontline workers, with the stresses of the COVID-19 lockdowns making the Australian public less forgiving of supply chain and logistical issues when it meant they were missing out.

Off the back of this has come an increased level of customer aggression, with more than half (56 per cent) of those surveyed having experienced a notable increase in incidents of customer abuse – again, more so targeted at women than men.

Additionally, 69 per cent of frontline workers stating the stress of enforcing COVID-19 safety regulations on customers had caused undue stress, while slightly more than half of non-frontline workers felt the same.

“It simply must end.”

Around Australia, retail workers have been physically and emotionally abused over the need to check customers’ vaccine certification before allowing them to enter – an issue which led to a Dymocks worker being knocked unconscious and pushed down an escalator recently, and a Salvos in Melbourne having human faeces smeared on it.

“It simply must end,” National Retail Association Dominque Lamb said last week. “Our members have had a gutful. No one deserves a serve of abuse. These are high-schoolers, university students, or simply young people looking to make an honest living doing nothing other than doing their job.

“Retail workers are not the police or trained security personnel. A 19-year-old part-time worker in a book shop or a grocery store doesn’t have it in their job description to deal with physical confrontation – and nor should they.”

Lamb added that if State Governments continue to leave it up to retailers to enforce these rules, they should scrap the requirements entirely.

“As you can appreciate, not only does this pose serious mental health risks, it also makes it extremely difficult for retailers to operate during the busiest shopping season of the year,” Australian Retailers Association (ARA) chief executive Paul Zahra said.

This story first appeared in our sister publication Inside Retail