Forty-five percent of small businesses had to temporarily close their stores due to crime.
Retailers have reported a spike in organised criminal activity with over 90 percent experiencing some level of retail crime.
Tougher penalties for individuals who assault workers was one proposa identified by retailers during a crime symposium hosted by the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) this week.
The ARA also said there was a need for more education and data to deal with the scourge of crime faced by front-line staff.
More than 91 percent of retail workers experienced retail crime with shoplifting, verbal abuse, and customer aggression as the top three issues, according to a recent ARA survey that involved 102 retail organisations.
Around 45 percent of small businesses had to temporarily close their stores due to crime with 30 percent of major retailers reporting similar actions.
ARA CEO Paul Zahra said the surge in retail crime has heavily impacted retail staff, many of whom were young and in their first job.
“It shouldn’t be the norm to be spat at, yelled at, or punched for simply doing your job. Tougher laws, like those recently introduced in SA, NT, and NSW, will better protect retail workers and keep them safe,” said Mr. Zahra.
“All retail workers, whether they’re casual, in their first job, or doing the night shift at the local convenience store, have a right to feel safe at work.”
Tougher Laws Introduced for Assualt
Laws in South Australia now have a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment for convictions of basic assault against retail workers on the job and seven years when the assault causes harm.
New South Wales also recently passed laws that will see those who assault workers face a maximum of four years in prison even if no bodily harm was caused. As for assaults that cause bodily harm against retail workers on the job, the new laws will see offenders face a maximum of six years behind bars.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, common assault carries a maximum penalty of a fine or three months imprisonment.
The ARA said it had noticed the largest increase in organised crime was from Victoria-based retailers.
Both the ARA and Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) have been fighting for tougher laws to be rolled out across the country.
SDA National Secretary Gerard Dwyer says that everyone has to work together to protect the well-being and safety of retail workers.
“The ARA’s initiative to address retail crime is commendable, and we look forward to collaborating with industry stakeholders to find effective solutions,” Mr. Dwyer said.
“Our justice system also has a role to play in protecting businesses and staff. We have advocated for tougher penalties for a good reason—we think if enforced the new tougher penalties will help businesses immensely and reduce the pressure on police.”
Organised Crime a Part of the Issue
Mr. Zahra says that most retail workers have seen an increase in retail crime. In fact, nearly 50 percent of respondents in the recent ARA survey have seen an increase in organised crime, with Victorian retailers reporting the highest increase.
Mr. Zahra also says the ARA is taking a proactive stance to address the issue to protect retail teams and their livelihoods.
“Our retailers are working together with police and criminal experts as well as unions to protect businesses and staff from organised crime attacks and increased assaults as well as general theft,” he said.
“Body-worn cameras only record once activated. If a team member feels unsafe in a situation, they can turn on their body camera and will inform the customer that they are turning it on for safety,” Coles told The Epoch Times in a statement.
The supermarket giant says it will not be a country-wide rollout.