Coles panic buying supermarket coronavirus
(Image: AAP/James Ross)

Cassandra Marra is a long-time supermarket retail worker. The following is an edited transcript of her interview with Crikey’s Charlie Lewis.

It just kind of hit us, back in early March. It was literally one day to the next. We were suddenly so much busier than normal, and certain items were just flying off the shelves. I had coworkers asking “what’s going on?”

Eventually a customer told us “there’s a crisis coming, and we have to shop for certain things”. That was the first a lot of us had heard about coronavirus. I think management was as surprised as us.

It’s a bit calmer now, but still there are certain items that sell out everyday.

Every single person I work with has been abused by a customer at least once. It’s about shortages usually. We have some people who ask about stock, and ask us to let them look out the back. They actually think individual staff members are hoarding for themselves.

So we’ve had people trying to break into our break room thinking they’ll find this big stash of items. It’s very frustrating, because we’re all doing our best to keep the shelves stocked, we’re part of this too.

Protective gear has been a big debate in the workplace. Coles have been advising us against using gloves and masks. They’ve been making sure we have lots of hand sanitiser and they recently put up the perspex covers up between us and the customers.

They’ve put up signage to tell customers not to lean over the counter like they used to. They’ve put up crosses to mark where people need to stand when they are lining up, but staff still work back to back.

We’re considered essential workers, but it’s still a for-profit business, we’re not running it as a service.

We have some real camaraderie among staff, but I’ve had some bad experiences with customers. I’ve had to beg some of them, when I’m stacking shelves, “please, don’t reach past me to grab something, please at least just give me a minute to get out of your way”.

The thing I’d really like people to take into account is as retail workers we all feel like we’re at risk everyday, and we take that strain back to our families.

And that’s not just physical strain, it’s not just that we feel like we’re exposed to a greater risk of catching the virus from being around so many people. It’s also our mental health.

The abuse and the stress, it all accumulates. I don’t think a single day has gone by in the last month where I haven’t seen at least one co-worker in tears in the break room.

We’re all doing out best. So I’d ask people to please have some patience, and have some respect.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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