A Wagga retailer worker has spoken out against the abuse, threats, and physical violence that she has experienced at the hands of customers.
The 41-year-old has worked at shops all around Wagga since she was 16 years old, and she said the abuse has steadily escalated in the past 10 years, peaking during lockdown.
She has been yelled at, spat on, grabbed, threatened, and followed home by customers, some of whom appear to be on drugs or heavily intoxicated.
On one occasion she was grabbed by the shirt and dragged over the counter, breaking the COVID cough screen in the process.
The final straw was when a customer threatened her two children, telling her he knew where they lived and where they went to school.
The woman, who did not wish to be named, quit her job in despair and is relying on Centrelink for the first time in her life.
"I left there because I was crying every night and every morning. I'd had enough. It got to the stage where my kids said: 'please leave, mum, we can't do it any more'," she said.
"It's rife. It's every shop. Everyone's copping it. Since corona it's gotten worse, but even before that it had been getting worse. It's devastating to see how much this town has changed."
The woman said the story was much the same for her other colleagues and retail workers, as well as her friends who work in other frontline industries.
"It's not just the retail industry, it's the hospitality industry, it's nurses, it's doctors. My own GP copped it one day. It's wrong. They're here to save lives and heal people," she said.
Wagga Nurses and Midwives' Association mental health president Amit Gupta said nurses copped abuse on a regular basis, especially his colleagues in the mental health ward.
Mr Gupta said it had been bad during the pandemic, but that it had always been a problem for the industry even pre-COVID.
"It's ongoing and it's never been less, it has been happening all the time. We as frontline workers in mental health face these situations every day," he said.
"There's a bit of racist remarks, especially in mental health. It happens to all the non-Australian nurses."
A National Retail Association spokesman said the abuse was being felt all across the retail sector over the past 12 months.
The spokesman said an industry survey had found 88 per cent of workers experienced verbal abuse from a customer in the past year, 15 per cent experienced physical customer violence, and 11 per cent experienced sexual harassment or abuse.
"Unfortunately, while many customers were understanding of government restrictions, a significant proportion took their anger out on retail workers, with some retailers reporting up to 400 per cent increase in aggression and abuse," he said.
"Many business owners were forced to employ security guards and crowd controllers to ensure government social distancing measures were followed."
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