Calling time on abuse

It seems barely a day goes by without news of workers being abused by customers in one area or another.

Over the past few years, there have been concerns about aggression towards health workers, Department of Conservation staff, those working in hospitality, on buses, and in petrol stations, supermarkets and other retail outlets, and call centres.

In recent weeks, Covid-19 restrictions seem to have brought out the worst in some shoppers when they are asked to comply with social distancing and mask wearing.

This week the focus was on Otago Regional Council staff. We have reported council chief executive Sarah Gardner saying she was concerned for staff safety after eight incidents of aggression towards staff in the past quarter, two of them necessitating calling the police.

Outrage over rates rises (the overall rates take this financial year has increased by 49%) and anger from some in the farming community is supposedly behind such behaviour.

Mrs Gardner said on one of the occasions a staff member was assaulted on a site visit.

She drew attention to the messaging of the Groundswell protest group which has called for all landowners to decline access for councils or their agents wanting to undertake mapping or information gathering on private land. (The group says it has ‘‘identified serious implications with this information gathering that landowners are largely unaware of’’.)

Cr Kate Wilson said Groundswell’s leadership had been quite clear they did not want supporters to be aggressive or angry and that aggression would have come from people outside the protest movement.

This view seems a little naive. We are not sure how a voluntary group such as this would be able to exercise much control on all its supporters.

Mrs Gardner said she had a no tolerance policy for abuse of staff as she did not want to be the chief executive knocking on someone’s door to say a staff member was not coming home.

It is a situation similar to that faced by Doc, where some staff may be in remote areas working alone. In such circumstances, ensuring workers are protected from unpredictable angry behaviour is difficult, if not impossible, because the chance of immediate aid is limited.

It is understandable that many of ORC’s ratepayers will be upset at the increase in this year’s bill but being abusive to staff about that seems a futile exercise.

There must be ways of making concerns known without behaving badly towards those who are just doing their jobs.

Many people throughout the country will be feeling increasingly stressed as the Covid-19 pandemic rolls on, aspects of life once taken for granted are absent, and the only certainty seems to be uncertainty.

Those who are swift to abuse might pause to consider that workers on the receiving end of their hostility will be under similar stress, possibly even more.

We wonder what part social media plays in this epidemic of poor behaviour where outrage and quick-draw vilification of others, often on the slightest of pretexts, reigns.

Has the ubiquity of this made many people believe it is acceptable to carry on like this elsewhere too?

Everyone has a responsibility to look to their own behaviour, put themselves in the position of the person they may be tempted to abuse, and call out others behaving badly (or seek help).

No tolerance for this should apply to all.


The year of the exercised amygdala. 'Groundswell', horny handed sons of the soil, should purge ignorant elements claiming association.


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