The New South Wales Government’s Crimes Legislation Amendment (Assaults on Retail Workers) Bill 2023, which will introduce tougher penalties against people who assault retail workers, has been widely welcomed.

The Bill will introduce three new offences into the NSW Crimes Act 1900, with the reforms making it an offence to:

  • Assault, throw a missile at, stalk, harass or intimidate a retail worker in the course of the worker’s duty, even if no actual bodily harm is caused to the worker, with a maximum penalty of 4 years’ imprisonment.
  • Assault a retail worker in the course of the worker’s duty and cause actual bodily harm to the worker, with a maximum penalty of 6 years’ imprisonment.
  • Wound or cause grievous bodily harm to a retail worker in the course of the worker’s duty, being reckless as to causing actual bodily harm to the worker or another person, with a maximum penalty of 11 years’ imprisonment.

Research from the McKell Institute, commissioned by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association found that a staggering 85 per cent of retail workers have been abused or assaulted at work. In addition the pandemic saw a new definition of what an essential worker was and the people working on the frontline inside stores and supermarkets were subject to increased abuse while on the job.

NSW Premier Chris Minns said: “Everyone should be treated with decency and respect while at work. There is no excuse for assaulting anyone, particularly not someone who is doing their job.

“This bill reflects our government’s commitment to support our workers and ensure their safety in the workplace.”

Minister for Industrial Relations and Work Health and Safety Sophie Cotsis added: “This type of offending causes enormous distress for the shop workers, their families and the wider community and can leave lasting emotional scars, as well as those caused by injury.

“It’s crucial that people feel safe when going to work and these changes will provide a deterrent for those who would behave in this manner to people trying to provide them with a service.

“I’ve heard firsthand from retail workers who have experienced terrible abuse which has affected their working life, this legislation signals the government’s support for our workers and their safety.”

Retail Drinks CEO Michael Waters said the new legislation was one welcome step in helping to protect retail staff from violence and abuse from customers.

“Abuse or violence towards retail staff in all its forms is completely unacceptable and we welcome the NSW Government’s new legislation which will formally criminalise this shocking behaviour in the retail shop environment.” Waters said.

“The maximum sentences of up to 11 years jail for the worst offences against retail staff demonstrate that there is no place in society for abuse of retail staff members and anyone doing so will be severely punished for their actions.

In welcoming the new legislation, Waters noted a concerning increase in instances of abuse towards retail staff in liquor stores, consistent with other areas of the retail economy.

“We have recently witnessed an alarming increase in customer aggression and physical abuse in our members’ stores, but also against online order delivery drivers, across the country, resulting in staff members being verbally and physically attacked for simply doing their jobs.

“It is important to note that the customer environment which liquor store workers face is often different from other kind of retail settings, in that staff have to regularly check identification documents of their customers and routinely refuse service to customers to meet responsible service of alcohol obligations.

“Retail Drinks, as the national industry association representing the interests of liquor retailers, is strongly committed to supporting its members protecting staff against violent acts from customers.”

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO Paul Zahra praised the NSW Government’s commitment to protecting retail workers.

“We’ve seen a frightening escalation in retail crime, where it is now becoming a matter of life-or-death for workers simply trying to do their job,” Zahra said. 

“It is shocking that in recent months in different locations across the country, we’ve seen several retail workers stabbed – in addition to the broader issue of staff being harassed, intimidated, and physically assaulted. 

“Actions speak louder than words, and we’re extremely pleased that the New South Wales Government has listened to our views and the needs of retail workers and is taking strong action to deter these violent incidents and keep retail staff safe. 

“We’re mindful that the majority of customers are respectful and do the right thing, but the small minority are making retail a dangerous environment to work in.”

Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci also welcomed the Bill, describing it as a significant day for the 50,000+ Woolworths retail team members across New South Wales.

“While, by far, the vast majority of our customers are respectful, there is no avoiding the fact that retail worker abuse is on the rise,” he said.

“In response, we have been investing in a range of new measures to better protect our team against violence, threats and abuse. All retail workers across the industry have the right to feel safe at work.

“Many of our team work and live in their local community and deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.”

Darren Blackhurst, Coles Liquor Chief Executive, said the group welcomes the NSW Government’s actions to protect retail workers from assault and abuse.

“We do not tolerate abuse or disrespect towards our team members or other customers in any of our liquor stores,” Blackhurst said.

“We know that the majority of our customers appreciate and respect our team members and the great service they provide.

 “We regularly train and develop our team to help them manage abusive behaviour and provide our team members with tools to help them remain safe in high-risk situations.”

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

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