What is it like on the front line of New Zealand's supermarkets during the Covid-19 lockdown?

A checkout staff member told Checkpoint there have been daily tears, racial abuse and - in some cases - violence.

Customers have been warned repeatedly against stockpiling, but some shoppers continue to hoard essential items, at times leaving shelves bare.

Supermarket staff - essential workers - are being abused while struggling to keep up with the overwhelming demand of restocking shelves.

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"I've had a few bad experiences since Covid-19 came to New Zealand," the checkout supervisor, who wishes to remain anonymous, said.

She said she was looking after her own children and her father. Her partner is also an essential worker.

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"We've had people throwing things at us, spitting at us, swearing at us, putting us down, calling us names, being racist to us as well.

"I had a male come in… he threw a basket at me because there was nothing on the shelf.

"He said to me 'why the f*** haven't you got stock on the shelf, you should have the stock on the shelf.'

"And I went home crying that day.

"I felt like I didn't get any support from anybody … I started crying right there in the middle of all the customers. One customer did come up to me and said that I handled it really well.

"She said she was so grateful for our work that we've been doing.

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"But it puts a lot of weight on our shoulders as workers ... because we're going there to provide for the community and our family, but we're risking ourselves getting abused.

"I literally cried to my partner and said 'I can't do this anymore'. I felt like giving up so many times."

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The supermarket checkout supervisor said seeing staff members crying was a daily occurrence - for many different reasons, but mostly from being abused.

She said there were good customers who are made good comments, but attacks and other bad behaviour had increased.

"We are just trying to do our job."
Staff are often harassed for not wearing masks or gloves, but the Ministry of Health has said supermarket staff are not required to wear such personal protective equipment.

Supermarket staff can wear masks and gloves if it makes them feel safer, but they have to supply their own.

The checkout supervisor told Checkpoint it was the employer's responsibility to make sure employees feel safe at work.

"All us workers deserve a break … Supermarkets should be closed on weekends, that's what I think.

"That's the kind of break we need to replenish our shelves. That break will be good for us to fill the shelves for all customers and community."

Her message for customers was simple: "Be kind. We're human too, and we're scared as well.

Covid-19 and the associated social-distancing has created a worldwide trend of 'balcony concerts' which started in Italy in mid-March.

"That's what I want to say to all New Zealanders shopping in supermarkets. Be nice. Leave some for somebody else that may need it more than you do."

And what will she do with having Good Friday off?

"I'm going to sleep. I'm going to sleep and have a long bath."

In a statement, the company said the "level of abuse our team continues to face is incredibly concerning… taking frustrations out on supermarket staff is unacceptable".

On the issue of safety gear the supermarket said that even though the Ministry of Health guidance was that masks and gloves were not required, the company had ordered a shipment for staff that should arrive this week.

Safety processes were being peer reviewed by a third party, the supermarket said.

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Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website