Coronavirus: Supermarket staff abused six times more than normal during lockdown

Supermarket workers say they're being physically and verbally attacked as they attempt to enforce physical distancing to keep their customers safe.

They say some stores are leaving them in the firing line in order to save money on hiring professional security guards.

Security guards have been at the door of supermarkets, but still Countdown has reported a 600 percent increase in abuse since the alert level 4 lockdown began. 

First Union has been fielding calls from staff in at least 16 stores who are concerned there's been a cutback in security. 

Tali Williams from First Union says the calls are concerning. 

"In many situations staff have been asked to replace security; staff who are not trained to do that work and staff who are feeling very nervous about confronting customers in these stressful times," Williams told Newshub.

Countdown told Newshub on Thursday that all stores have security, but it has been scaled back where there have been no incidents.

However the abuse of staff is a common enough occurrence for many to have witnessed it. 

Newshub spoke to multiple customers who said they have seen people getting "grumpy" or "abusing" staff, seemingly for no reason. 

And it seems alert level 3 has not calmed people's nerves. In fact, supermarket rage appears to have been further fuelled by those who take umbrage at being told they must still practice physical distancing. 

"I know of a recent situation where somebody had bread thrown at them from the queue because the customer was frustrated about how long the queue was. This is not the fault of the checkout worker on a low wage," said Williams. 

Punching, spitting and intentionally coughing has also been reported. 

Foodstuffs, which owns Pak'n'Save and New World, says shoplifting has also become more of a problem during the lockdown. 

Dairies and superette owners are noticing it too; thieves - undeterred by the one-in, one-out policy - are just walking out without paying. 

The battle dairy owners had with violence before the lockdown was well-documented - but the fear is post-lockdown unemployment is a new trigger.