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Woolworths worker 'scared' to go to work as CEO forced to email shoppers

The Woolworths boss has raised staff concerns over abuse in a letter to customers, but a worker says management often does not report incidents.

A Woolworths staffer has revealed he's "scared" to go to work after he and his team have faced "daily" abuse from customers.

A rise in abuse towards staff has been seen across the country, leading to Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci calling out the "unacceptable" bad behaviour in an email to shoppers.

Under the assurance of anonymity, the Woolworths worker from NSW told Yahoo News that he, and other staff who are on the front line, cop swearing, yelling and physical abuse — but it isn't often reported by management for higher-ups to be made aware of.

In one recent incident, a customer began throwing grocery items at the employee who had to run behind a counter and call security for help. "I told management about it and they made me contact the police," he said. "I shouldn't be the one that has to ring them. They should be calling them and doing the report".

Left image of a Woolworths sign in front of their store. Right image of an unknown customer at a Woolies counter.
A Woolies staff member has revealed how unsafe going to work can be. Source: Getty / Reuters

Regular abuse for things outside staff control

The Woolies employee shared a number of minor reasons why he and his colleagues cop regular abuse from customers coming into their store, from items being out of stock to not enough cash in their tills for large withdrawals. "It happens every day, all the time," he said. "I'm scared at night on checkouts. I don't like working after 7pm when there is no staff and it's not safe".

"When you go online, it says that an item is in stock but it takes two and a half hours for the system to update. So [a customer] comes into the store, they call [for help] and it's me working that day, I get called the 'F' word because it's out of stock," he gave as an example.

Another main source of anger comes from customers suspected of shoplifting. "[We] ask to check their bag, that's when they get angry, and swear and yell".

Woolies CEO pleads for shoppers to 'respect' staff

A letter written by Woolworths boss Brad Banducci on grocery inflation and sent out to customers over the weekend has revealed that "a minority of customers" are treating workers "badly".

"During the pandemic, our team members were often considered frontline heroes," Banducci said in the email. "Sadly, that goodwill has fallen away and, while the vast majority of customers do the right thing, we’re seeing an unacceptable rise in team abuse".

"There’s no excuse for this behaviour in our stores or any workplace. We thank all our customers who treat our team with respect and kindness," he continued.

Banducci said despite public concerns over the increase of self-serve checkouts, with the popularity of online ordering, this year Woolies has hired 5500 personal shoppers. "So there’s more jobs at Woolies not less," he continued.

Incidents are not being reported by management, worker says

The NSW Woolies worker has revealed the biggest barrier stores in his area are facing is a lack of reporting by managers and team leaders. "I just want management to do something about it," he said. "Report it to authorities, get back to us... We need to do something to stop it".

He alleges it is the amount of paperwork that stops management staff from wanting to make reports. He says by not reporting it in the system, decision makers are not aware of the support really needed by staff on the ground, such as security at night, which their store still does not have despite the low staff numbers and copious amount of incidents at that time.

Recent strike included calls for better safety for workers

These revelations come after a recent strike by Coles and Woolworths employees seeking better pay and working conditions. "These are essential workers who are on minimum wage, have unsafe workplaces and insecure jobs," Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) secretary Josh Cullinan said at the time.

Mr Cullinan said that supermarkets are unsafe workplaces that are akin to "crime scenes". "You have young women in their first jobs having to experience sexual harassment," he told Yahoo. "There is an incident at every store every month".

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