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Retail employees across the country have taken to wearing additional badges in a move designed to curb the amount of abuse thrown their way by customers.
In a grim yet realistic sign of the times, a young Woolworths worker was spotted at the Lennox Head store, in the NSW Northern Rivers, wearing a badge stating “I’m a son” on Saturday.
“I just think it’s sad that they’ve got to the point where they have to wear a badge to remind people that they’re a human. It’s pretty full on,” Woolies shopper Kirra Pendergast told Yahoo News Australia.
Ms Pendergast said the young man, aged around 19 or 20, told her he had faced abuse on several occasions which he put down to people having a “sense of entitlement”.
While the badges were rolled out last year, they have played an important role for workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen customer abuse spike dramatically.
Badges saying “I’m a mother”, “I’m a father”, “I’m a son” and “I’m a daughter” were launched as part of a national No One Deserves a Serve campaign by SDA (Shop Distributive and Allied Employees' Association), a trade union for retail, fast food and warehouse employees.
“There was a significant spike particularly during the first lockdown and the crazy panic buying that we saw. We had to get the NSW government to bring in spitting fines,” SDA NSW secretary Bernie Smith said.
Customers who spit on a retail worker can now be slapped with a $5000 fine or face up to six months behind bars.
“These things were happening during the peak of the COVID period, and the badges have come into their own, reminding customers to think twice before acting that way,” Mr Smith told Yahoo News Australia.
Following the union’s trial of the badges, which were rolled out at Woolworths, Target, Big W and KFC, there was a reported 44 per cent reduction in customer aggression.
“The idea of the badges is to humanise the person behind the counter, so the customer sees them as a person rather than somebody processing their sale,” Mr Smith said.
“They’re someone who’s part of a family and part of a community, and the badges make people think twice.”
He said pandemic or not, customers should always treat retail workers with dignity and respect, and consider going a step further during COVID-19 and thanking them.
There have been several examples of poor customer behaviour since the coronavirus outbreak, including a Woolworths shopper in Adelaide last month.
Another Woolies shopper was filmed inside the supermarket’s Cabramatta store in Sydney’s west hurling abuse at other customers and staff.
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