Assaults, abuse and death threats from customers angry about low supply levels have sparked calls for better legal protection for workers.
Assaults, abuse and death threats from customers angry about low supply levels have sparked calls for better legal protection for workers.

Store staff face death threats over virus shortages

Supermarket and retail workers have been assaulted, abused and subjected to death threats as their union calls for greater protection.

The SA State Government will consider the proposal despite the number of legal and workplace safety guards.

Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA) secretary Josh Peak has written to Premier Steven Marshall asking that the state's supermarket staff, who have been under increased pressure because of COVID-19, to be treated like frontline workers.

He has provided statements from numerous workers who have faced violent store rage over low supply levels.

One retail worker said: "I've had customers abuse me, threaten me and have also received a jab to the rib as I asked a customer to wait in line."

A Woolworths worker said "We've worked extra hours, we've been abused and even assaulted, we've had death threats and threats of violence."

In the letter, Mr Peak said throughout the COVID crisis, retail workers had played an essential role in keeping SA running.

"In the process, they have been subjected to a great deal of emotional abuse and stress, forced to work long and unsociable hours and put their own safety at risk for the good of others," he said.

"While yourself and the Prime Minister have acknowledged the efforts of retail workers and other frontline workers, this mere acknowledgment is simply not enough."

Mr Peak told The Advertiser declaring retail workers as essential and introducing stronger penalties for spitting or coughing at workers were essential.

But Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said there were strong penalties for people who spat or coughed at anyone.

"Coughing or spitting on or at anyone in their place of work, or indeed in any situation, is a cowardly and disgusting act," she said.

"At present, someone found guilty of this can be prosecuted … and the maximum penalty is three years behind bars if harm is caused to the victim, or two years if no harm is caused.

"I will be considering the SDA's proposal in due course.

"However, noting the heavy penalties in place already, there may not be cause to make any changes in this area."

Mr Peak raised concerns about safety in March when the virus led to panic-buying and caused many workers to be threatened with aisle abuse.

Originally published as Store staff face death threats over virus shortages


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