Supermarket employees in Melbourne are bearing the brunt of customers’ frustrations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with some experiencing verbal or even physical abuse.
Woolworths Doncaster employee Kay Peslis said a customer became hostile and blamed her for Woolworths’ recently implemented policies to cap product purchase limits.
“He came very, very close to my face while shouting. It was very threatening. Now, the less I am working, the better I feel as stress is at an all-time high,” Ms Peslis said.
Ms Peslis said the spike in rudeness or aggressive behaviour had caused most of her work colleagues to become fearful while at work, worried not only for themselves but for innocent customers.
“The environment is chaotic and unpredictable. It’s hard to guess how people will react when you tell them you don’t have what they’re after, especially if another customer picked up the last item,” said Ms Peslis.
The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), says there have been unacceptable amounts of increased reports of abuse and violence directed at workers, including “swearing, yelling, hitting, spitting and threatening behaviour”.
While employees continue to deal with abuse, customers are also being affected, with fighting among customers occurring in some supermarkets.
There have been reports on social media of people coming to blows over products such toilet paper, food and other essential products that are scarce because of COVID-19 panic buying.
Harold Mason, a regular shopper at Woolworths Doncaster, said he had intervened on behalf of another customer during a fight at his local store.
“The woman was screaming bloody murder and clutching this guy’s arm. She was yelling and screaming at this poor man who had toilet rolls in his trolley. I told her to cut it out,” said Mr Mason. “By the end of it, she was asked to leave by management.”
Woolworths Group didn’t provide comment on the on-going threat to staff and customers in their stores, instead directing media to a March 24 press release.
“As our team members continue providing for the community, we will do everything necessary to uphold public health and safety in our stores,” Woolworths Supermarkets managing director Claire Peters said in the statement.
Ms Peslis pleaded to her community: “We’re employees, we’re not the enemy. Please, we’re trying our very best. Be empathic and be kind to each other.”