Police to increase Covid checks in Coles, Woolworths: 'No excuses'

Supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles have again come under fire over Covid-19 rule enforcement, as police confirm that they will be cracking down on compliance.

A statement released by Police Commissioner Mick Fuller recently confirmed that NSW police will be conducting more compliance checks on the use of QR check-ins and face masks in supermarkets.

“There is no reasonable excuse that members of the wider community are not adhering to current health orders and using the QR check-ins and wearing face masks,” he said.

“NSW Police Force will have a zero-tolerance approach to members of the public and businesses breaching these orders.”

Police standing outside a Coles store. Source: Getty Images
The compliance crackdowns will cover all supermarkets. Source: Getty Images

Confirming this approach, Mr Fuller also said that businesses not complying with the QR check-in system will be fined $5,000, members of the public failing to comply with the QR check in system will be fined $1,000 and those not wearing a mask will be fined $500.

As Covid-19 cases surge on Australia's east coast, Mr Fuller urged anyone who has information regarding individuals or businesses not complying with local government advice to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or by going to their website.

Yahoo News Australia has contacted the Australian Federal Police for further clarification on enforcement responsibilities.

Coles, Woolworths slammed for check-in rules

Enforcement concerns are becoming increasingly common on social media, following explosive claims of customer abuse directed at store staff members attempting to enforce Covid rules.

Today Show Host Karl Stefanovic recently discussed this issue with Police Minister David Elliott.

“You’ve got people who are on 18 bucks an hour trying to refuse entry to someone who will just come in and say ‘I‘m going in, I’m going in,’” Stefanovic said.

“What does the person do? It places them [the staff] in an awful predicament.”

Mr Elliott said that supermarket chains should pay for security guards if they believed staff could be at risk by asking customers to check in.

A check-in sign at the front of a Woolworths store. Source: Getty Images
Customers have previously reported that young staffers are being placed at the doors to enforce QR check-in compliance. Source: Getty Images

Utilising Facebook to air these concerns, Woolworths and Coles customers are detailing the abuse they have witnessed between check-in staffers and the general public.

"They're scared of the abuse they're getting," wrote a Woolworths customer.

"Staff have told me they're not allowed to say anything [to non-compliant customers] for their own safety," a Coles customer posted.

Enforcement responsibilities confirmed

Speaking to Yahoo News, a spokesperson from the SDA Retail Union has previously confirmed that retail staff should not be asked to enforce Covid-restrictions.

“Public Health requirements are valid in promoting greater health and safety for retail workers and the community, but enforcement of Public Health Orders is not the responsibility of retail workers.”

The Australian Government Department of Health has told Yahoo News Australia that while enforcement rules differ between states and territories, mask-wearing is strongly encouraged by the department.

“The Commonwealth Department of Health does not have enforcement powers over state and territory mask mandates, but strongly encourages the use of masks in compliance with public health advice and measures,” the spokesperson said.

The issue of enforcement responsibility has been widely discussed on social media, with Facebook users using the official Coles and Woolworths pages to say it should fall to police.

“Why are people allowed to wander around your stores without masks on? I would have thought you’d at least hire security to enforce the mandatory rules,” one Woolworths customer wrote.

A woman holding a drink and wearing a mask scans a QR code on her phone. Source: Getty Images
Customers have shared their concerns about compliance issues on Woolworths and Coles Facebook pages. Source: Getty Images

“Only police are allowed to enforce,” a Facebook user replied.

“My local store has two staff standing at the entrance, watching people go in, yet they don’t even stop to suggest to shoppers that they need to wear a mask to enter,” a Coles customer said.

“They are not allowed to enforce these rules because it is the police’s job,” a Facebook user replied.

The Crime Stoppers website states that "you can report both profiteering and pandemic restriction breaches to Crime Stoppers".

Pandemic abuse on the rise in supermarkets

A recent report by the SDA Retail Union states that Coles will be implementing specialised security at the front of stores as an additional measure to mitigate enforcement abuse towards staff.

A spokesperson from Coles previously told Yahoo News: "We encourage team members to report any incidents of abusive behaviour so that we can provide support."

In response to customer’s claiming they had witnessed mistreatment of team attempting to enforce check-in rules, a Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo News: "We take these matters seriously".

"Those who abuse our team members can face a range of consequences, including being banned from the store or criminal charges," the spokesperson said.

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