Victorian retail sees a spike in customer abuse

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) boss Paul Zahra has once again called on the Victorian Government to do more to stop retail staff facing abuse from customers, after thousands of incidents were reported in the last week.

Since last Friday, retail workers have been physically assaulted and had shopping trolleys “thrown” at them, according to the ARA, while at least one has had a boiling cup of coffee poured on them, due to heightened customer aggression surrounding the need for all shoppers to show vaccine certificates when entering a ‘non-essential’ retail store.

“The behaviour exhibited by customers during the past week has reached peak levels, resulting in many retail staff becoming fearful to return to work,” Zahra said in an open letter to Victorian State Premier Dan Andrews.

“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,” Zahra added.

Much of the issue, Zahra said, comes from the Government’s unwillingness to consult with businesses prior to making sweeping changes – seen last week, when retailers were told they would need to start checking vaccine certificates with only a few hours’ notice.

This meant additional staff were needed to be rostered on which weren’t already on a store’s roster – something that, in many cases, is done days or weeks in advance as required by law – and that these staff, and customers, weren’t adequately prepared.

Retailers were further surprised by the decision to bring forward the cut-off date for second vaccinations for retail workers from 26 November to 19 November – a change the industry was given no notice of.

“Many of these challenges could have been minimised or avoided entirely with appropriate consultation and planning with the retail community,” Zahra said.

“We can only repeat our request for improved consultation, accurate and timely communications and the urgent provision of the final phase plan so retailers can prepare for next steps.

“Anything we can do to ease [retailers’] pressures will go a long way towards a business recovery, [and] in doing so we will also be relieving stress and mental health challenges for one in ten Victorian workers,” Zahra concuded.

This story first appeared in our sister publication Inside Retail