A national survey of fast-food workers has revealed 87 per cent had experienced abuse and aggression at work.
The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) said customers who abused fast-food workers needed to be prosecuted “to the full extent of the law”.
It has launched a new national advertising blitz “No One Deserves A Serve” to help address what it described as alarming levels of aggression towards staff.
James Colangelo, 19, said he had been spat on, abused and had received death threats while at work at a major food chain in Adelaide’s CBD.
“A lot of the time they don’t really see us as human beings. They see us as robots that are just there to give them food and it means that they feel OK to sort of abuse us,” he said.
“Multiple times I’ve had customers unsatisfied with the temperature of their coffee and when I’ve told them that we unfortunately can’t change the temperature of their coffee they’ve … thrown [it] back in my face.
“I’ve had people throw food at me through the window for long wait times in the drive-through when we’re understaffed.”
The teenager also said he had seen female colleagues subjected to “disgusting” behaviour, with customers making lewd and aggressive sexual comments.
“It’s not acceptable. We’re people. We’re not robots,” he said.
“We’re here to do a job and we just want to get that job done and go home at the end of the day, safe and happy.”
He said customers has also threatened to have him fired if they did not get their way.
Union says incidents not reported
SDA assistant secretary Josh Peak said the survey of more than 1000 workers revealed the problem was now out of hand.
“It’s not good enough. It’s got to stop and we’re trying to send a very clear message,” he said.
Mr Peak said employers had a responsibility to provide a safe work environment for their staff, but many incidents were not being reported to police.
“There is a huge discrepancy between what is reported to us through the survey process and what’s reported to police. There’s a large amount of under-reporting,” he said.
“Employers need to put in place policies and procedures and training so that when this sort of behaviour does occur that it is reported to police.”
The union has also called for better security for staff.
“We need to be making sure that police are taking appropriate steps to prosecute people to the full extent of the law,” Mr Peak said.
“It’s really important that we send a clear message to the community that retail staff and fast-food staff will not be treated in this particular way and one of the ways to do that is to make sure that when customers do the wrong thing that they are arrested and prosecuted.”
He said part of the campaign was also to address bad behaviour throughout the Christmas and new year period.
“We acknowledge that Christmas can be a busy and stressful time for many people, but that does not excuse rude, offensive and disrespectful behaviour toward fast-food and retail staff,” he said.
“We also call on employers to act urgently to take a zero-tolerance approach to this behaviour and support workers when incidents occur.
“Employers must step up and do more to protect workers and mitigate risks in their workplaces.”
In September, a woman avoided jail after pleading guilty to charges including aggravated assault, disorderly behaviour and resisting arrest after hurling abuse at KFC staff on Adelaide’s Hindley Street.
She was put on a good behaviour bond for 18 months.