COVID-19: Retail worker says abuse is worse than ever during Auckland lockdown, staff getting death threats daily

A woman working in a retail store in Auckland's north shore says she is facing more abuse than ever before during the latest lockdown with customers threatening to attack and kill them regularly. 

The retail worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, says they were already dealing with abuse during the first lockdown but this time it's significantly worse

"Even before COVID-19 or between the levels it was something we, unfortunately, were used to and we have learnt to brush it off our shoulders...But it is worse than I have ever, ever seen it. 

"This time around people just don't care, they're not patient, they are fed up and they just don't care.

"We probably get 80 customers a day who haven't made an order [online] and have just shown up and around 70 percent of them are irate."

She says customers are angry they can't enter the store and have to shop online under alert level 3 restrictions and are taking it out on the staff, even though they have no control over it. 

"I've been told to kill myself, told they're gonna burn the place down and kill me. We have been called f***ing useless multiple times daily. 

"Told to get f***ed. Flipped off. They hang around outside the doors with their arms crossed waiting for us to leave the building and when we do they yell even more abuse," she says. 

The woman says she's never had to call the police because of threats as much as she does currently. 

"We all have to leave through the back car park which is barricaded so if they are waiting for us we can see and we won't leave.  When customers are here and they haven't taken no for an answer they will hang around at the door and when other people come to collect their order we have to explain, 'We are really sorry but we have to wait a moment until the police arrive and move the abusive customer along'.

"I don't think I have ever had to call the police to tell someone they are threatening us and they won't leave [until recently]." 

The abuse is taking a toll on staff and while she says her company is very understanding and supportive, other retail workers won't have the same support. 

"Our company is actually really good... They really take care of our mental health as a whole. We can tell our team, 'take a day off, take sick leave' but I don't know how it affects other people who aren't as fortunate as us."

She said staff are exhausted and emotionally drained from the abuse

"We are sick of saying sorry... We are sick of crying on our breaks. We get it, we are fed up too, this is hard on us as much as it's hard on everyone else." 

The woman says they also receive regular calls asking them to speed up delivery, which they can't do. 

Under Auckland's current restrictions retail stores can operate but only with click and collect and delivery. 

"Give them [couriers] a break. They have so many orders to collect, their vans are not big enough, they have a weight limit of how much they can carry. They can only drive to the speed limit."

First Union's national organiser for retail Ben Peterson told Newshub abuse of staff has unfortunately been a common occurrence during the pandemic. 

"We are seeing this [abuse] pretty consistently everywhere. We are quite concerned about next week with this phased approach to exiting level 3.

"Retail workers are front face of our society and often the COVID restrictions - they are the people on the frontline so when people are frustrated or angry or afraid about the COVID situation, they can't yell at a virus and they can't yell at Ashley Bloomfield but they can express their frustration to some poor sod who is working."

Peterson said workplaces need to ensure there is adequate staffing and security to keep employees safe. 

"People need to grow up and leave retail workers alone but the reality is that some people are really supportive and it's one in 1000 but that's all it takes to make situations pretty hairy.

"We are hoping the police take a proactive approach in supporting people who need it… We are also hoping that all brands are putting on adequate security to support staff."

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