As the Health Workers strike reaches front pages, another industry is now in the spotlight following revelations of a culture of abuse and harassment towards staff. It was reported today that Australian retail and fast food workers are dealing with levels of violence and vitriol from customers that is reaching the level of an “epidemic.”

The news came via The Shop, Distributive, and Allied Employees Association (SDA), who this week held talks the National Retail Association and the Australian Retailers Association to assess “the customer abuse epidemic in retail and fast food outlets across the country,” reports The News Daily.

Most front-line workers, or essentially staff who deal directly with customers, in retail outlets, supermarkets and fast food chains have faced abused with 85% of staff interviewed detailing instances of verbal abuse from customers. Furthermore, 14% of staff interviewed have faced incident of physical violence from customers.

“We’ve got an epidemic on our hands,” says SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer, “This abuse can severely impact their physical and psychological health and it cannot continue.”

Despite growing incidents of abuse and assault, major employers including Woolworths and McDonalds have been slammed for not doing enough to protect their staff. Woolworths reduced the amount of security at stores and McDonalds places the ounce of reporting incidents and specifics of incidents on their staff instead of installing further security measures.

For instance, as reported by The Daily News, one McDonalds worker was sprayed in the face by a fire extinguisher by a customer in the drive-thru, however the restaurant was not equipped with cameras to capture the offending vehicles licence plate.

Retail and Fast Food Workers Union secretary Josh Cullinan has pushed back at any language suggesting that employees at these companies – largely teenagers – should be responsible for protecting themselves.

“No worker should ever experience these behaviours, and certainly not the lowest-paid workers in Australia in retail and fast food,” he said. “This is the responsibility of the employers. These are by and large multibillion-dollar companies that can more than afford a security guard, or to install CCTV, or do whatever else they need to to provide a genuinely safe work environment. And to a tee, they continue to all refuse.”

There is yet to be a course of action put forward to combat the issue.

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