Legislative Council: Tuesday, May 17, 2022


Frontline Retail Workers

The Hon. J.E. HANSON (14:41): My question is to the Attorney-General. Will the Attorney-General advise the Legislative Council on the prevalence of violence and abuse against frontline retail workers?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:41): I thank the honourable member for his question and his ongoing interest in this area. Many members will have seen footage on television, or perhaps even witnessed for themselves, occasions when frontline retail workers have unfortunately borne the brunt of the public's frustrations during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether that be over stock shortages, social distancing, or even the requirement enforced in the past to wear a face mask.

Incidents of abuse and violence towards retail workers are sadly not isolated. A survey of over 6,000 workers conducted by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (the SDA) has revealed that in the past 12 months 88 per cent of respondents had experienced verbal abuse from customers, almost 8 per cent of respondents had been victims of physical violence from a customer, and 70 per cent of respondents said that abuse and violence were more frequent during COVID-19, with more than 20 per cent of workers having been coughed or spat on by customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These findings are strikingly similar to the results of a survey conducted by the National Retail Association, which found that some retailers had experienced a 400 per cent increase in incidence of customer aggression and abuse due to the pandemic.

The SDA has shone a light on this important issue through its Nobody Deserves a Serve campaign to eliminate abuse and violence against retail workers, and I know that many members in this chamber have been active supporters of that campaign. The campaign began in 2017 as a promotional campaign to raise public awareness, but quickly developed into a key plank which has garnered the support of many employees and delivered improvements in working conditions.

Some of the key successes of the campaign include public messages of support from MPs and senators from across parliaments in Australia, the union working with individual employers to develop improved policies and training, and all major employers signing a pledge calling for zero tolerance of abuse and violence towards retail workers. I commend the SDA, and in particular the leadership in South Australia of Josh Peak, in raising awareness about this issue through the Nobody Deserves a Serve campaign.

Unfortunately, South Australia has lagged behind other jurisdictions in recent years in taking strong action to protect retail employees. New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory introduced fines for customers who deliberately cough and spit on retail workers and, further abroad, the United Kingdom introduced tougher penalties for those who attack retail workers.

I am proud that this government stands shoulder to shoulder with retail workers and recognises that this kind of behaviour is completely unacceptable in modern society. As the newly elected government, we have committed to making sure there is a legislative instrument for aggravated offences for people who abuse or assault frontline retail workers and we are in the final stages of working on that now.

Retail workers are essential employees who have kept South Australians fed and clothed throughout the pandemic and deserve to be treated with respect. For many young South Australian retail workers, including one of my children, it's their first job in the labour market. I know many in this chamber will have had the same experience of retail work being their first job in the labour market. Workers shouldn't have to fear coming to work as a frontline retail worker. We recognise that there is never an excuse for violent and abusive behaviour towards a retail worker.

While I am on my feet, I might respond to a question that the Hon. Tammy Franks raised last week in parliament in relation to a code of conduct for members of parliament. The report of the joint committee that followed the equal opportunity commissioner's review of harassment in the parliamentary workplace recommended a code of conduct be adopted for members. On 18 November last year, the Legislative Council resolved to have that code of conduct incorporated in our standing orders.

I have sought advice from the Clerk on the implementation of that motion. I am advised it has been implemented and that the code of conduct is now reflected in the standing orders. I understand that Her Excellency the Governor notified the Legislative Council of this change on 10 February this year. I am further advised that the printing of the updated standing orders has not been completed yet, but the staff of the council expect to have this done shortly.