Retail groups welcome stronger protection for workers

The New South Wales Government’s Crimes Legislation Amendment (Assaults on Retail Workers) Bill 2023, which will introduce tougher penalties against people who assault retail workers, has been widely welcomed.

The Bill will introduce three new offences into the NSW Crimes Act 1900, with the reforms making it an offence to:

  • Assault, throw a missile at, stalk, harass or intimidate a retail worker in the course of the worker’s duty, even if no actual bodily harm is caused to the worker, with a maximum penalty of four years’ imprisonment.
  • Assault a retail worker in the course of the worker’s duty and cause actual bodily harm to the worker, with a maximum penalty of six years’ imprisonment.
  • Wound or cause grievous bodily harm to a retail worker in the course of the worker’s duty, being reckless as to causing actual bodily harm to the worker or another person, with a maximum penalty of 11 years’ imprisonment.

Research from the McKell Institute, commissioned by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association found that a staggering 85 per cent of retail workers have been abused or assaulted at work. In addition, the pandemic saw a new definition of what an essential worker was and the people working on the frontline inside stores and supermarkets were subject to increased abuse while on the job.

NSW Premier Chris Minns said: “Everyone should be treated with decency and respect while at work. There is no excuse for assaulting anyone, particularly not someone who is doing their job.

“This bill reflects our government’s commitment to support our workers and ensure their safety in the workplace.”

Minister for Industrial Relations and Work Health and Safety Sophie Cotsis added: “This type of offending causes enormous distress for the shop workers, their families and the wider community and can leave lasting emotional scars, as well as those caused by injury.

“It’s crucial that people feel safe when going to work and these changes will provide a deterrent for those who would behave in this manner to people trying to provide them with a service.

“I’ve heard firsthand from retail workers who have experienced terrible abuse which has affected their working life, this legislation signals the government’s support for our workers and their safety.”

Theo Foukkare, CEO, Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), congratulates the NSW Government on the introduction of this bill to criminalise abuse against retail staff.

Foukkare has been working with all states and territories over the last two years as part of their crime committees, highlighting the significant increase in abuse against retail staff, which accelerated during covid and has remained.

“Our retail members employ over 80,000 frontline staff who serve 3.5 million customers every day, and while the vast majority of customers are friendly and well-behaved, the challenges that our frontline staff have had to deal with while they are simply doing their job is unacceptable,” he says.

In welcoming the new legislation, Foukkare noted similar legislation that was recently introduced in South Australia to protect retail workers.

“In South Australia, recent amendments to the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 stipulate that perpetrators attacking retail workers will be handed the same punishment as those assaulting a police officer or emergency worker,” Foukkare said.

“Under the amendments, people convicted of basic assault against 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.

“In addition to the amendments, the South Australian Police Commissioner has allocated resources toward a dedicated Retail Crime Intelligence Officer, to identify and track the critical offenders responsible for most retail loss.

“Since its inception some months ago, over 300 arrests of repeat offenders have occurred and over 1,000 convictions have been made.

“AACS will continue to advocate for all states to adopt the SA & NSW approach to protect all frontline retail workers while they are at work.”

National Retail Association CEO Greg Griffiths echoed Foukkare’s sentiments, praising the NSW Government’s commitment to protecting retail workers.

“Today we welcomed the announcement that the New South Wales Government will introduce legislation to curb customer aggression and abuse against retail workers.

“In South Australia, similar legislation has already been introduced, and we’ve called on the State and Territory Governments to enact legislation and protect retail workers.

“The National Retail Association is here to assist members to tackle these less than desirable but nonetheless real issues, and we are currently offering an accredited short course to skill your staff in effectively and safely Dealing with Aggressive and Abusive Customers.

“In addition, NRA Legal will be soon hosting an online webinar on Identifying and Understanding Psychosocial Risks, and this is critical for anyone in the retail sector.”

Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci also welcomed the Bill, describing it as a significant day for the 50,000+ Woolworths retail team members across New South Wales.

“While, by far, the vast majority of our customers are respectful, there is no avoiding the fact that retail worker abuse is on the rise,” he said.

“In response, we have been investing in a range of new measures to better protect our team against violence, threats and abuse. All retail workers across the industry have the right to feel safe at work.

“Many of our team work and live in their local community and deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.”

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