Supermarket workers are being run off their feet while having to cope with stressed-out and abusive customers, writes Liam Gilleland.

Confessions of a shelf stacker: abusive shoppers and ‘insane’ hours

The stressful reality for supermarket workers of long hours while dealing with often abusive panic buying customers has been laid bare by a fed-up shelf stacker. 

In a lengthy Reddit post the supermarket nightfiller, using the name u/Ceiling_crack, reveals how bad the situation is behind the scenes in our supermarkets, while other workers comments reveal shoppers stealing communal trolley wipes and screaming at staff.

u/Ceiling_crack writes: “My back hurts, my fingers are swollen, my knees are in bits. I haven’t had a meal with my family since this whole thing started 2 weeks ago.

“We have been working double to restock shelves. Our usual loads have doubled. Our trucks coming in have doubled.

“I literally put stuff on [the shelves] and turn around to see it all gone.”

As coronavirus sends shockwaves through the community panic buying has become a term most of us understood but had never experienced, before now. It’s the action of buying large quantities of a particular product or commodity due to sudden fears of a forthcoming shortage or price rise. And we’ve seen it in supermarkets over past weeks, leading to a shortage in food and essentials, in particular: toilet paper, rice, pasta, meats and canned foods. 

Coles supermarket Surry Hills. Photo: Christa Nicola
Coles supermarket Surry Hills. (Photo: Christa Nicola)

Because of the demand, supermarkets have been among the few businesses employing rather than laying off staff.

Describing how much their lives had changed in the current crisis u/Ceiling_crack writes of the new norm for supermarket workers of coming into work on days off, staying back and starting early.

“Trust me when I say that we’re killing ourselves to make sure there’s stock on the shelf,” he/she writes.

“We have to try and do our jobs whilst also getting abused by our customers.

“People think they’re entitled to take more than the limits. People are sitting in the aisle waiting for stock, blocking us from actually doing our job. They’re also pulling things off cages and pallets making it unsafe for everyone.”

The post adds: “We’re doing our best. We have people who have left their job previously come back into the store to help out.

“No we don’t know when there’s more toilet paper. We’re in the same boat as you are. No I don’t have a stash out the back. Supermarkets don’t have storerooms. They have a shop floor and a back dock. Once the store has been filled it’s all on the shelves.”

Over 400 people have commented on the post, with the overwhelming majority supportive, giving every supermarket employee a reason to smile and keep their head up during this tough time.

One writes: “Thank you for your efforts. I saw the massive amount of empty cages scattered around my local Coles last night & still the shelves were empty. So sorry people are abusing you, they aren’t related to me :)”

Another reveals not even supermarket workers are getting preference for essentials in short supply, writing: “My kid works nightfill at our local woolies. He is exhausted. Also can confirm there are zero nightfill loo paper or any other perks to be had in these times…we are down to 1 roll of toilet paper in our home.”

A fellow supermarket worker responds: “I’m from a SA foodland and we are in hell mode too. had someone yell at a friend of mine due to a lack of toothpaste. hopefully it will subside in a few weeks.”

There are actual people behind corporations that share the same concerns you do and are busting their backs and sacrificing time with family so that you can have the privilege of wiping your ass.

Bebloo on Reddit

A supermarket support centre worker, using the name Bebloo, says the amount of “effort, late nights and sacrifice” being put in “under current constraints, is insane”.

“People have been coming together from all parts of the business to assist teams in store, at our CFC’s & call centers,” writes Bebloo. “It’s quite disheartening to read the sheer entitlement, abuse and uninformed judgement that’s being thrown our teams way. Despite what people think as keyboard warriors fighting “the man” – there are actual people behind corporations that share the same concerns you do and are busting their backs and sacrificing time with family so that you can have the privilege of wiping your ass.”

Another supermarket worker, called ResearchandDestroika, writes: “The store looks smashed all the time and while most people are patient, there’s more than a few who’ve demeaned the company efforts to reduce the spread and instead belittled the severity of the virus.”

While another reveals shoppers stealing communal wipes.

“We had some people stealing the sanitary wipes that we put near the trolley for customers to wipe the trolley. So we had to remove it and put it in the back so no could steal it anymore. Now, other customer had to suffer from this cause they didn’t had anything to wipe the trolley with,” wrote Pattriciano.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has spoken out against panic buying, labelling it ‘unAustralian’.

He said: “On bulk purchasing of supplies: Stop hoarding. I can’t be more blunt about it. Stop it. It is not sensible, it is not helpful and it has been one of the most disappointing things I have seen in Australian behaviour in response to this crisis.” 

But it’s been left to the supermarkets themselves to impose product limits and enforce them with instore security.

Police have charged a number of people with bad behaviour in stores during the panic buying craziness.

Last Tuesday a 53-year-old woman was charged with allegedly assaulting two supermarket employees at Lake Macquarie. She was involved in an altercation with staff and a security guard, allegedly verbally abusing one and threatening a 46-year-old staff member before punching him in the chest and spitting in his face.

Stay calm, be polite, be human.