Suzanne Green is worried that after December 3, the fast food restaurant where she works is going to become an “unpredictable, high pressure situation”.
Green, a McDonald’s staff trainer for the past five years, is concerned fast food staff will not be able to handle the aggression of unvaccinated customers denied entry to the store.
“We have people working in our team who are 15, and it is their first job… How are they supposed to say no when an angry customer tries to bust through the door?” Green said.
Green said staff had been watching the growing anti-vaccination protests with concern, and were worried the anger would soon be directed at them.
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“I can see where the Government is coming from trying to protect people from Covid, but there needs to be something in place to protect workers checking the vaccine passes,” Green said.
John Cocker, national secretary of Unite Union, said it was not appropriate that workers should have to bear the brunt of angry anti-vaccination protestors.
“Hospitality businesses in general are going to need extra support from Government. It might be appropriate to supply increased police presence around these businesses because they are going to be victimised by anti-vaxxers,” Cocker said.
Members of Unite have been keeping a close eye on anti-vaccination social media groups, and had seen talk of targetting fast food businesses for “micro-protests”, Cocker said.
“We are very concerned that anti-vaxxers are going to be making political stunts, and using these businesses and our workers as victims in them,” Cocker said.
Cocker said businesses that do not sell alcohol were particularly vulnerable as they often did not have security staff, and would probably have to reassign other staff to check vaccination passes.
Julie White, chief executive of Hospitality NZ, said business owners were also concerned they could become targets of angry anti-vax customers.
“You only need to look over to Sydney to see how bad things can get. We need to use the examples from overseas to see how we can de-escalate those confrontational situations,” White said.
White said she supported Unite’s call on the Government for help, and had been in conversations with Government for the past two weeks asking for targetted support for hospitality businesses concerned about facing the ire of unvaccinated customers when reopening.
“We are only the messenger. Non-vaccinated people can be quite vocal, and how on Earth are we going to ask them to leave our premises when they are standing up and shouting, wanting to tell their story,” White said.
White wanted to see heightened police presence at hospitality businesses to help de-escalate confrontational situations.
She said she wanted the Government to recognise the weight of the task they asked small business owners to take on.
She pointed to the rising number of instances of abuse of retail and public service workers, with opponents of mask-wearing regulations spitting on them, or roaming from store-to-store in repeated protests.
White was concerned that on December 3, that anger could be directed at hospitality workers, and was calling on the Government for help.
“No one wanted Covid and its no one’s fault it is here. This is a Government driven mandate, and we need the Government’s backing. Whether that is heightened police support or something else, we need something,” White said.
Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood said any threats to the safety of frontline workers was completely unacceptable.
“We’ve been clear throughout the pandemic that no worker should feel that they have to put themselves in a position of feeling unsafe or compromised,” Wood said.
Wood advised workers who were threatened to walk away, and if the aggressive behaviour continued, they should call police.