Retailers and workers are bracing for a surge in customer abuse as the holiday season approaches.

A recent survey conducted by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) revealed that 76 per cent of its 4,600 members experienced regular verbal abuse over the past year, with 12.5 per cent enduring physical violence - a 50 per cent increase from two years ago.

In response to these alarming figures, business owners, retail groups, and workers are coming together to establish an industry council dedicated to eradicating retail abuse.

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA), the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA), as well as other major retailers and shopping centres are on board. 

The joint safety council aims to advocate for stricter laws and penalties against those assaulting retail workers and provide training and support to address trauma.

The SDA and ARA have engaged in roundtable discussions with major retailers and shopping centres to address the rising incidence of abuse. 

The union says the stress of the prolonged cost-of-living crisis, coupled with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising interest rates, has heightened concerns within the industry.

“We are saying to the community, that's not acceptable. People are entitled to go to work and feel safe,” says Gerard Dwyer, national secretary of the SDA. 

The proposed safety council will urge all states and territories to criminalise retail abuse, mirroring the harsher penalties for assaulting emergency services workers.

Apart from legal measures, the council is also expected to explore potential changes in store design to enhance staff protection, drawing parallels to the significant reduction in armed hold-ups in banks after the installation of security screens in the 1990s.

As the holiday season is a critical period for small businesses, the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia has also expressed concerns about staffing shortages exacerbating customer aggression.