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Tuesday, 12 May 2020
Page: 2169

Senator FARRELL (South Australia) (20:32): Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, we've seen many heroes in our workforce—nurses, doctors, emergency services and many others—but one group that I'd particularly like to thank is those unsung heroes working in retail, fast food and warehousing. While most Australians have stayed safe, hundreds of thousands of essential workers have gone to work each day to help keep our country running. At a time when so many sectors of our economy have been shut down to protect public health, workers in these industries have continued to go to work every single day.

Retail workers in supermarkets and stores have ensured that we can get what we need to feed our families and get essential items. Those in pharmacies have continued to work through this unprecedented health crisis so Australians can access important medical supplies. Fast-food employees have adapted to the changing ways of work so we can grab a meal when we need to. And warehouse workers have worked around the clock to make sure that every supermarket and store has enough goods to go round.

I'd like to say thank you to every one of these essential workers who are working through this incredibly difficult period, especially those in stores who have faced unacceptable abuse and violence from shoppers when all they are trying to do is do their job. You deserve to be treated with respect and dignity at work, not just during this crisis but all of the time. These workers face the same fears and anxieties as everyone else trying to manage during this time. They have their own families but have bravely and diligently shown up for work each day. They deserve not only to be thanked but to be provided with a safe workplace, with paid leave if they are sick or have to self-isolate and with a job and financial security if they're stood down.

These are all the things that their union, the SDA, has been working tirelessly to secure for its more than 200,000 members across this country. I know that the SDA has made every effort to ensure that the safety of every worker is its first priority during this crisis. Thanks to this great union, these workers can continue to serve the community, knowing that, no matter what changes occur or what is next, their union will continue to be there to represent and support them. Thank you to every essential worker across the retail, fast-food and warehousing industries. As more and more stores begin to reopen, I'd ask every Australian to treat them with respect and, when you're shopping, to understand that their safety is important too.

We do not want to see any more of the panic buying which has sometimes led to hoarding and, even worse, profiteering. The SDA has been calling for a range of protections to ensure retail workers' safety during this pandemic. It has relaunched the No One Deserves a Serve campaign and called for all Australians, when they get to the shelves or to the check-out, to be patient, kind and thankful towards the staff and to treat them with the respect that they deserve. No-one deserves a serve for just trying to do their job.

It's only a few weeks ago that we were seeing scenes on our television screens of retail workers on the receiving end of verbal and even physical abuse over low stock levels and purchasing limits. Retail workers have been sworn at, yelled at and, in some cases, physically assaulted. There's never an excuse for abuse. And now retail workers are faced with a new threat: thousands of Australians are ignoring ongoing distancing measures and packing into shops as restrictions on movement and gathering are eased. That is not okay. As we start to see a staged easing of restrictions in some jurisdictions, it can't be simply left to the hardworking shop assistants to police the social-distancing rules. Governments must lead the way in shaping public behaviour and ensure the message is being received and distance adhered to. We need our shops open to supply us, to keep our economy going and to get more than a million workers back to work. We can't allow our retail sector to become the epicentre of new outbreaks simply because customers can't control themselves. That's not fair on retail workers, and it's not fair on shop assistants. We can start by showing workers, who kept us going in the toughest of times, courtesy, gratitude and the respect that they deserve.