Young workers demand big workplace changes

·2-min read

Young workers starting their careers in the retail and hospitality industries are calling for changes to make their workplaces more safe.

Paul Zahra, from the Australian Retailers Association, says employees in his sector want to be able to express themselves.

He says running a safe workplace means more than addressing physical hazards or bullying and harassment.

"Employees want to be safe and feel comfortable in an environment where they can be their true selves," Mr Zahra told business and union leaders in Canberra on Thursday.

"Creating a safer, fairer and productive workplace should be in everyone's interest - employees, employers, unions and government."

Mr Zahra also said women wanted to be able to have a family without being disadvantaged or falling behind their peers in opportunities for career progression.

His comments come on the first day of the Jobs and Skills Summit, which is focusing on ways to accelerate the nation's economic recovery.

In South Australia, people convicted of assaulting retail workers face up to seven years in prison after new laws took effect on Thursday.

Penalties for offenders who assault retail workers on the job, including hitting or causing bleeding, have been changed from three to seven years' imprisonment.

Previously, those convicted of basic assault, including scuffles, arguments or verbal threats against workers, faced up to two years' jail, but under the new laws they can now be imprisoned for up to five years.

South Australian Attorney-General Kyam Maher said retail workers deserved to be treated with respect after supporting the state through the pandemic.

"No worker should have to fear coming to work in a retail job," Mr Maher said.

In South Australia, customer-facing shop workers face an average of 50 assaults a month.

Shop workers should not have to go into work expecting to be punched, spat on or yelled at by customers, SA retail union boss Josh Peak said.

"It doesn't matter how low stock levels are or how long the queue is, this legislation sends a clear message: retail workers do not deserve a serve," Mr Peak said.