Auckland shoppers shocked at increase in aggression against supermarket staff

6:05 pm on 21 November 2023
Countdown Richmond with new Woolworths signage.

Woolworths plans to improve security by installing gates and equipping staff with body cameras. Photo: Supplied

Shoppers in Auckland are appalled by the high rate of crime and abuse in supermarkets.

Woolworths, formerly Countdown, said its staff faced physical abuse on an almost daily basis.

Shoppers were shocked, but not surprised.

"It's bad, and it's gotten worse," one said.

"We're coming on some pretty tough times in our economy," another said.

"People are getting stressed out and maybe taking it out on people they shouldn't."

Woolworths head of health, safety and wellbeing Denva Wren told Morning Report that the company had recorded 159 cases of abuse in the last six months.

"Our team are seeing verbal and physical abuse every single day from people coming into our stores, and it's really not OK," she said.

"We're calling it out and asking our customers to respect our team as we head into the seasonal period."

FIRST Union general secretary Dennis Maga said members had been threatened, shoved and spat on.

"During the pandemic, supermarket workers were hailed as essential workers and recognised as heroes for providing that service," he said.

"But in recent times we're seeing aggressive behaviour that's not acceptable."

Woolworths planned to improve security by installing gates and equipping staff with body cameras.

Wren said some stores would be given fog cannons. "We've got a suite of measures we've been working on, we're really asking for New Zealanders to respect our team."

One shopper wondered if the new security measures were a step too far.

"It's a bit overkill. [Like] having fog cannons in dairies, some dairies are looking like prisons with cages and things like that," he said. "It's sad to see."

But another found them comforting.

"I feel a bit unsafe going shopping nowadays," he said.

"If they're going to up security with body cameras and all that, it sits a little bit better with me."

Retail NZ chief executive Carolyn Young said aggressive behaviour could be seen throughout the retail sector, not just in supermarkets.

With the busy holiday season around the corner, she was encouraging retailers to boost their security.

"We've seen an unprecedented level of crime and violence towards staff and in store," she said.

"The level of aggression really escalated [after lockdown] and we haven't seen it retract since then."

She hoped the incoming government would increase support for retailers and discourage criminals from reoffending.

"What we're hoping to see from the new government is stronger support for retail, more police officers to respond to crimes, and that the justice system is unclogged," she said.

"There's a lot of recidivist offending, so obviously the system isn't working."

Young urged shoppers to be patient during their Christmas shopping.

"Just allow a little bit more time, because we know this is the busiest quarter of the year. Take a breath and think of others before you respond."

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