‘An unfortunate feature of 2020.’


Pharmacy stakeholders are dismayed as a new survey shows more than a fifth of retail workers were spat or coughed on during the pandemic

The SDA, which represents workers in retail, fast food and warehousing (including pharmacy assistants), has released the results of a survey of 2,300 members – showing that 87.92% of retail workers report being subject to verbal abuse.

The self-selected survey showed that 25.07% of retail workers experience this abuse every week.

And 21.6% said that during the COVID-19 crisis this year, they were coughed or spat on at work.

Another 7.78% said they had experienced physical violence from a customer in the last 12 months – and the respondents also said abuse and violence was more frequent during the pandemic.

Many of those who responded said the abuse and violence they experienced affected their mental health, with 76.54% saying it caused stress, and 72.62% anxiety.

Another 39.2% said it caused burnout and 36.13% said it caused sleeplessness.

The survey forms part of the SDA’s No One Deserves a Serve campaign, which aims to eliminate abuse and violence towards retail and fast food workers from their customers.

It also aims to remind customers that this behaviour will not be tolerated.

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild told the AJP that, “Bad behaviour by a small minority of pharmacy customers was an unfortunate feature of 2020, and one which the Pharmacy Guild condemns”.

“Through the year, the Pharmacy Guild urged the general public to respect the right of pharmacy staff to safety and courtesy.

“Pharmacists go out of our way to help patients source medicines that may be in short supply if they are needed urgently.

“They should not be expected to endure aggression and threatening abuse from a tiny minority of Australians who are engaged in this behaviour.”

Professionals Australia CEO Jill McCabe also condemned poor behaviour from customers.

“Professionals Australia is extremely disturbed by the findings of the SDA survey which shows the extent and nature of abuse being experienced by employees across the retail industry,” she said.

“Pharmacy employees have also encountered high levels of verbal and physical abuse throughout the year. As essential workers who have been delivering vital services to the community in the battle against COVID-19, this is completely unacceptable.

“While Christmas is a stressful time, particularly during a global pandemic, we urge shoppers to treat dedicated and hard-working pharmacy staff with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

The AJP reported on a number of cases of abusive behaviour towards pharmacists and pharmacy assistants this year.

By early April, Anthony Tassone, Victorian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, was saying incidents had included “a pharmacist being punched in the face trying to prevent an individual hoarding boxes of tissues” and “reports of individuals throwing stock at pharmacy staff, in some cases actually striking them and causing injury requiring further medical attention”.

In October, Ahmed Ouf, owner at Pharmacy 4 Less Auburn in Sydney’s western suburbs, spoke about being sworn at and having a sneeze guard smashed into his face by a furious patient.

“I feel like in the last 8-9 months we’ve become desensitised to the verbal abuse, it’s like you get used to it to the extent that it becomes part of your daily routine,” Mr Ouf told the AJP.

“That anyone can come to the pharmacy and say to you, ‘you are a piece of shit’, anyone can come and swear at you because they want you to sign some papers and you’re busy serving other patients.”

Only days later, pharmacy owner at Chemist Discount Centre Moe Rania Hanoun said that an angry patient smashed a window between a consultation room and a dispensary in a Moe pharmacy.

At the time, National President of the Pharmacy Guild George Tambassis said that “Pharmacists and pharmacy staff should not be expected to endure aggression and threatening abuse from a tiny minority of Australians who are engaging in this behaviour.

“The safety and wellbeing of our staff and other patients is paramount.”

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