A customer backlash over the 15-cent charge for single-use plastic bags has forced the country’s two big supermarket chains into a temporary backdown.
Woolworths said on Friday it would provide free reusable bags for a further 10 days, amid reports its staff had been abused by unprepared customers.
“Some customers have told us that getting into the habit of bringing their own reusable bags has been a challenge,” managing director Claire Peters said on Friday.
The supermarket giant has been charging 15 cents for single-use bags since June 20 in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. Bags had already been phased out in the ACT, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory, and other reusable bags are also available for higher charges.
Rival Coles is due to implement the ban on July 1. Yesterday, it moved to head off its own expected backlash, announcing every checkout in its stores would be open on Sunday to cope with anticipated delays as customers struggled with the change.
It will also have extra checkouts in action from July 2-8 at peak times in the states where bags will be off the list for the first time.
The SDA union, which represents retail workers, pleaded with customers not to take the ban out on staff.
“While we understand that some customers may be frustrated by this change, there is no excuse for abusive or violent behaviour towards retail staff,” SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer told News Corp.
Mr Dwyer said the union had reminded retail staff about their rights, including not overloading bags and not handling dirty or unhygienic bags.
“Retail workers should not have to bear the brunt of any abusive behaviour, just for following the new rules,” he said.
Agree. I’ve found the shift really hard and I have had to change my behaviour. But that is exactly the bloomin’ point of the whole exercise! https://t.co/dSwxowoBMN
— Ryan Sheales (@RyanSheales) June 28, 2018
Ms Peters said some customers had been caught out by the Woolworths ban.
“While some customers have forgotten their reusable bags altogether, many have done the right thing and brought their own only to end up one or two reusable bags short,” she said.
“We’ve listened to these customers and heard they just want a little extra help from us to get through the transition to a more sustainable way of shopping.
“This will not only help support customers as they work to form new habits, but also ensure they’ll have reusable bags on hand when they next choose to shop with us.”
Competitor IGA is pushing ahead with a plan to ban the bags in its supermarkets on July 1. The country’s other major supermarket chain, Aldi, has never given away free bags.