Woolworths worker sacked for pushing shoplifter highlights disturbing trend

Clinton Freshwater, 44, believes the supermarket has inadequate safety measures for frontline workers.

A Woolworths worker who says he was fired after pushing a shoplifter believes it's far too easy for supermarkets to place blame on staff when most are at "breaking point" over the lack of safety in stores.

Clinton Freshwater, 44, had worked for Woolworths for 15 years and was the duty manager at the Wynnum Plaza store in Brisbane when he was notified by another senior staff member in November that a suspicious customer was making other workers feel "uncomfortable".

"He kept walking around the store and loading stuff into his bags... there was a couple of times where he pretended to line up at the registers and then would disappear again," he told Yahoo News. After 30 minutes of this behaviour Freshwater said the customer attempted to leave the store with items he hadn't paid for.

Left, Ex-Woolworths worker Clinton Freshwater stands in front of a large pile of boxes at the Wynnum Plaza store in Brisbane. Right, he holds a cat while wearing a hi-vis vest over his uniform.
Ex-Woolworths worker Clinton Freshwater believes little is done to protect staff safety in the supermarket. Source: Supplied

"He walks straight through the self-service checkouts and that's when I ran to catch up with him a little and [had] just gone, 'Hey mate' and straight away he swung around and got me on the side of the head with a bottle of milk," Freshwater said.

This initiated a physical altercation between the two men and Freshwater admitted he "clicked into a different mode", reciprocating with several pushes. He said the incident resulted in him being fired.

Ex-worker accuses Woolworths of 'ignoring' worker safety in stores

Freshwater claims the supermarket has long encouraged in-store workers to simply "ignore" anti-social behaviour instead of integrating effective safety measures.

"Just to show you how poor the practices are within Woolworths, they didn't even call security for me... they definitely need to look after their people more," he said.

Staff are required to complete online safety courses but Freshwater said these are only a check-box exercise. He said they don't equip workers with the knowledge or confidence when a real-life situation unfolds — with theft and antisocial behaviour a "daily" occurrence.

"If we didn't have that once every couple of nights, it wouldn't be a normal night sort of thing," he said. "Not long before that I had three or four kids come in and run riot in the store, they threatened me multiple times, and I asked them to be banned from the store and my bosses just said to ignore them."

Woolworths respond to claims

After Yahoo News reached out to the supermarket it declined to comment on the specific incident due to "confidentiality obligations to the former team member" but said safety is prioritised over all else in stores.

"No product is more important than our team members’ safety," the spokesperson said. "We take the safety of our frontline team members extremely seriously, and we have made significant investments in CCTV, body-worn cameras, personal duress devices, and training to help team members remain out of harm’s way."

Left, a stock image of a Woolworths storefront. Right, over ten CCTV cameras are spotted on the ceiling in one section of a Woolies store.
Woolworths have significantly increased store security measures in recent months. Source: Getty and Reddit

Woolworths have notably increased security measures in stores in recent months and sceptics say this is to combat the high level of theft in store rather than strengthen workplace safety.

Josh Cullinan, Secretary of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU), told Yahoo News supermarkets only employ a security guard at stores when theft rates are above a certain threshold — not when antisocial behaviour increases at the site.

Safety issues are 'endemic' in supermarkets, union says

The RAFFWU have been pushing for a safety clause to be introduced in supermarket Enterprise Agreements — a document which outlines wages and workplace conditions for workers — but allege their attempts have been squashed at every turn.

"We want to see safety structures and steps as industrial rights in an Enterprise Agreement," Cullinan told Yahoo News. "When someone assaults, abuses, intimidates, threatens a worker, there would be a process which is immediately implemented that those workers can enforce."

This would involve a store shutting down and an investigation being carried out, much like in a corporate workplace. Yet Cullinan claims supermarkets simply won't embrace this as it would "cost them a sale".

"Supermarkets are absolutely not prioritising it, but we would take it further and say that they're not acting in any way to protect the safety of workers," he said.

"All we're asking for is for supermarket workers to be having the same protections as head office staff... a lot of workers in supermarkets are being treated abominably," he said. "These issues are endemic, and only getting worse."

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