Retail workers are experiencing increased abuse from customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research.
A report from the University of Sydney and the Australian National University (ANU) reveals over half of Australian retail workers have experienced an increase in customer abuse since the onset of the pandemic.
Over 1100 workers from retail, fast food and distribution sectors were surveyed during the height of lockdowns in many parts of Australia.
Results revealed workers most affected by heightened customer abuse were women, frontline workers, those from non-English speaking backgrounds, and those under 50.
According to the report, the impact of the pandemic on these sectors has highlighted the already fragile socioeconomic positions of many members of these groups.
University of Sydney Professor and co-author Rae Cooper said managers and employers should be taking a zero-tolerance approach to poor treatment of their staff.
“Workers feel disrespected and report that they have been on the receiving end of disrespectful treatment, threatening behaviour and bad manners from retail customers.”
ANU Professor and co-author Ariadne Vromen said the experiences and concerns of retail workers in the pandemic has been overlooked and underestimated by government and media, particularly in comparison to other frontline workers.
The report found workers’ experiences of customer abuse did not differ whether they worked in a lockdown region or not, suggesting it is an issue larger than the pandemic.
Approximately half of survey respondents said their job security has suffered in the pandemic and are actively seeking better security of employment.
According to the report, workers in retail, fast food and distribution sectors are some of the most affected by mental health and well-being issues.
Job losses, reduced working hours, increased hostility from customers and heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 are among the causes.
“As we come into the Christmas season it is worth a reminder that the mostly young, often low paid and highly feminised retail workforce should not bear the brunt of customer abuse,” said Cooper.
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