‘It shouldn’t come to this… enough is enough.’

Frontline workers including pharmacy staff are copping a new surge in abuse from aggressive customers, while the Guild calls for education about new COVID-19 measures

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, which counts pharmacy assistants among its retail, fast food and warehouse workers, says there has been an “upsurge” in incidents of customer abuse and aggression during Victoria’s latest lockdown to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

And one leading pharmacist says pharmacists and pharmacy assistants are among those affected.

Acting Victorian premier James Merlino said on Wednesday that the state was expanding its QR code requirements, to make it mandatory in retail settings.

“The 15-minute threshold will also be removed so anyone entering a shop or a café will need to check-in,” he said.

But according to Gerard Dwyer, national secretary of the SDA, there has been a backlash against retail staff as a result of the change.

“The union understands the need for this direction during the current Victorian lockdown to ensure the safety of the community at large and for production of ID in regional outlets,” he said.

“However, it is no excuse for shoppers to take out their misplaced frustration on retail workers.

“Check your behaviour before you check in,” he told the general public. “Enforcing these regulations is not the responsibility of retail workers.”

He noted that a recent SDA survey showed that 87.92% of 2,300 retail workers surveyed reported being subject to verbal abuse – a quarter of them every week.

One in five respondents reported being coughed or spat on during the pandemic.

Anthony Tassone, Victorian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild, confirmed that this abuse has been happening in pharmacies.

“With the announcement of an extension to lockdowns in Melbourne earlier this week, unfortunately there were case reports in pharmacies—including my own from my staff of rude and abusive members of the public,” he told the AJP.

“Frustratingly, some have learned nothing from 2020 where staff in essential services such as supermarkets and community pharmacies bore the brunt of unacceptable behaviour all while they were there, and continue to be on the front line trying to help the public.”

He said the Pharmacy Guild has recommended to the Victorian Government that it implement a clear public awareness campaign about the importance of measures like mandatory QR check-in to help assist contact tracing, containing virus outbreaks and to help assure that restrictions and lockdowns are a last resort.

“The vast majority of the public appreciate the continuing great work of community pharmacies and completely understand the need for QR check in systems at pharmacies and other businesses continuing to operate during the lockdowns,” Mr Tassone said.

“Pharmacies who encounter rude and abusive behaviour from the public should not hesitate to ask them to leave if they feel there is a risk to the health and safety of their staff and patients in store, or even call the police.  

“It shouldn’t come to this. 

“It shouldn’t be this hard—people need to take responsibility for their own actions and behaviour. 

“I’m sure they wouldn’t want their son, daughter, mother or father treated in this way at their workplace. 

“Enough is enough—we’re here to help and have been from the start but don’t deserve to be treated badly just trying to do our job.”

Dr Geoff March, national president of Professional Pharmacists Australia, also condemned the fresh wave of abusive customers.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and during this recent Victorian outbreak pharmacists continue to make incredible sacrifices, often at great personal risk, to continue doing their vital work protecting the community’s health,” he told the AJP.

“Any customer violence or abuse toward pharmacists or pharmacy staff is completely unacceptable and we strongly encourage all members of the public to strictly adhere to the public health regulations, including the scanning of QR codes when entering all pharmacy premises.”

The SDA’s Mr Dwyer also called for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to “show leadership developing a standard national community, industry and health response to be rolled out when snap lockdowns are called”.

Mr Tassone reminded pharmacists who feel the need to speak with somebody confidentially about challenging circumstances at the workplace to consider contacting the Pharmacists Support Service on: 1300 244 910.

Currently on the list of exposure sites (all Tier 2) are several pharmacies:

  • My Chemist Broadway, Reservoir, on May 25, between 4.45pm and 5.25pm
  • Chemist Warehouse, Epping Homemaker Center, on May 17 between 6.55pm and 7.37pm
  • Chemist Warehouse, Epping Homemaker Center, on May 18 between 6.30pm and 7.10pm
  • Chemist Warehouse Mickleham, on May 22 between 1.45pm and 2.45pm
  • Chemist Warehouse Greenvale on 25 May, between 12.50pm and 1.30pm
  • Chemist Warehouse Dalton Village, Epping on 19 May, between 6.45pm and 8pm
  • Chemist Depot Epping, Pacific Epping Shopping Centre, on 23 May between 11.15am and 12pm

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