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SA fast food and retail stores told to better protect abused staff


McDonald’s Cross Roads manager Connor Boyle tells of being anxious every day at work as customers throw food and abuse at his teenage staff. The fast-food worker welcomes a SafeWork SA report showing 28 retail outlets are being told to make workplaces safer.

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Boyle has worked at McDonald’s stores for six years and says now “I feel deflated after every shift” after witnessing customers constantly abusing workers as young as 14 years old at his King’s Park store.

“It could be over anything, missed items, something is cold, something might be a mistake, just adding cheese to a hamburger,” he told a press conference in Adelaide this morning.

“On overnights you get people fighting, I’ve seen people come around the counter and try and fight with crew. I would say pre-COVID it wasn’t as bad, after COVID everyone has been angry, there’s no sense of calm, people go from zero to 100.”

SafeWork SA today released findings from a recent campaign targeting the retail sector that involved visiting 89 retail workplaces in metropolitan and regional SA between June 2022 and January 2023.

Its Preventing Violence and Aggression in Retail Proactive Compliance Project report showed inspectors issued 28 improvement notices during the time period.

The main area of non-compliance was retail outlets failing to provide enough training for retail workers on how to deal with violence, aggression and armed robberies.

Having safe systems in place like security screens, CCTV cameras and duress alarms were next highest in non-compliance.

Its findings were released with figures that showed between August 25 last year and August 31 this year, SA police made 215 criminal charges related to the sector, this included 11 people being charged with theft using force, another 184 for assault and six people charged with assault that causes harm.

Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) secretary Josh Peak said the figures must be addressed particularly in high-risk petrol stations and standalone liquor outlets.

He cited McDonald’s in Hindley Street as one fast food outlet that was seeing positive staff protection results in tackling escalated staff abuse.

The outlet installed “bank teller-like security screens” in March this year to protect workers from being assaulted or spat on, and another similar system is being installed at the West Lakes outlet.

“Nobody should go to work and feel they are going to be abused or assaulted,” Peak said.

Peak also said the State Government’s new Declared Public Precinct in the city’s Central Business District giving police new powers to conduct searches, remove and ban people from the area had shown “an improvement”.

The group was now working with the government to hold a roundtable around retail theft and safety, he said.

SafeWork SA executive director Glenn Farrell said a statement pledging “to eradicate customer abuse from the retail and fast-food industries” was signed with SDA in November last year.

“Many retail workers are young, work in isolation and have little experience dealing with customers, let alone aggressive ones,” Farrell said.

“Employers have a duty to ensure that risks of violence and aggression in the workplace are appropriately managed if they can’t be eliminated.”

Industrial Relations and Public Sector Minister Kyam Maher said the State Government introduced tough new laws last year where people convicted of assaulting a worker selling goods could face up to five years in prison, while someone convicted of assault causing harm could be imprisoned for up to seven years.

“The reforms we brought in last year recognise that abusive behaviour towards retail workers is completely unacceptable,” he said.

Coles supermarket retail worker Gabbi Colloff told of being constantly nervous about customer abuse particularly when she worked on self-service checkouts at the Tea Tree Plaza store.

“I’ve not been physically abused but I’ve been verbally abused by customers on many occasions,” she said, adding that she was 15 years old the first time a verbal abuse incident occurred over the sale of gift cards.

Other staff at her workplace had been assaulted. Colloff said the number of incidents may be linked to heightened emotions around financial stress “but we are all under that, I’m just trying to get on with my day”.

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