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My life story after working at Woolworths/Safeway

Woolworths care factor Zero

I first started working for Safeway/ Woolworths in 1998 as a trainee duty manager at the Preston store. I had moved from a small town in Queensland to be with my (now) wife.

During this 15 week training period, I was to work in each department for a couple of weeks and learn how each of them functioned however all each department actually used you for was cheap labour (as they weren’t paying directly for me) Not much actual training.

Only a couple of weeks into the training I was asked to take on the role as duty manager on the weekend. This was overtime and this was paid for by the store above my training wage however this meant I was now working seven days a week.

So without any real training I was working as a duty manager, the company expectation was already set and I (inexperienced small town employee) was there to do whatever the company needed. There was NO support structure and I had to learn on the run, how to deal with shop lifters, drug addicts (usually violent), customer complaints and staff issues as well as the nightly running of the store.

It was not unusual to find used syringes in the shelves that you were packing or facing up and I am just thankful that I was never pricked by one of these syringes.

Start and finish times were pretty much at the whim of the store manager and the assistant store manager. There was also the pressure of department managers who each insisted that their department was my main focus during my shift

The real bullying and Safeways ignorance of their duty of care didn’t really start until after I had completed my training and was assigned to my home store of Safeway in Deer Park. At this point I will have to ask that you forgive my incongruent timeline and names of managers as one of the effects of my condition makes it difficult to keep thoughts in order.

My first manager’s name was Errol (first is always easy to remember). He was a nice enough man but he expected a lot for his dollar. I was a part timer and my contract was for 28.5hrs/week. On paper, I was paid quite well for the hours I was contracted for, that is if that was all the company expected but I was told straight away that Safeway expected all of its salaried employees to perform at least an hours overtime each shift.

By the end of my first week I was informed that I had certain tasks to complete before I went home but Woolworths did not pay salaried employees overtime on rostered days. Consequently a deal was struck where overtime past the expected hour was accrued as TOIL (time off in lieu). But very rarely was I given the time off but I kept a record of time owing for myself. I was expected to come in on my days off under the same deal

Although all departments’ budgets contributed to my salary, the Grocery department was my main focus because it was the largest by far therefore a large portion of my salary came from its budget.

To complete the expected tasks I was given a grocery boy for 3hrs/shift and he was responsible for many things from collecting trolleys to taking semi-trailer deliveries and everything in between. As I wasn’t permitted to incur staff overtime on my shift, so all incomplete tasks would fall on my shoulders and I would stay back to complete them.

Thefts and Gang fights outside were common and I would quite often have to walk staff to their cars at the end of their shifts. For the most part, the security we had in the store were crowd controllers and only good for deterring shoplifters and didn’t even do that well so I would have to wear that hat as well.

The other duty manager who was a long time employee worked the opposite days to myself was quite a bully. To my face but mainly behind my back, she would belittle me and talk down to me as well as start rumours and anything else she deemed part of her job. She would talk to other staff members in the same inappropriate way, the only exceptions were a couple of her little pets she had following her around. But I digress..

I was made to use my own car in my own time to go to other stores and pick up supplies (expenses) and on occasion go out and do customer deliveries that had been missed.

By the time Jenny start as store manager I had accrued just over a month’s TOIL and approached Jenny to talk about the time owing and her first words were “how do I know that you aren’t lying to me?” I told her to ask Errol and her response was that it wasn’t her problem and he should have sorted it out before he left.

That didn’t stop her and she was straight on the “you keep a record of your TOIL and we will sort it out” I felt intimidated and could only do as she had asked.

One evening a group of shoplifters were trying to leave the store, during the ensuing scuffle I was bitten and my skin was broken so off to the doctors for HIV and HEP testing and a six month long and stressful wait for the results. Luckily for me they came back negative.

The same time as this was going on,

Alain started as assistant manager. He was a dark South African with the stereotypical attitude. He was abrupt and demanding making sure that I knew that I was beneath him. The only thing that made me smile is that Jenny hated him and he didn’t respect her much either.

On a number of occasions Alain would ring me on Sunday morning at around 7:00 after I had only got home from work and to bed two or three hours before and would expect me to discuss things that could be dealt with when I came in that afternoon or worse the following week.

He knew I has psoriasis that caused my scalp to flake but he would often ask me what the flakes were in my hair, this would always be in a department managers meeting or in front of other staff. It was at the last one of these meetings that I was to ever attend where he did it again. This is when I made an inappropriate reference to his skin tone and left the meeting. He was furious and took me into the office and in a tone I fully believed his threat, he said “if I was in my country, he would take a gun and shoot you dead”

Needless to say I didn’t hold him in very high regard after that incident.

As you will appreciate after 17 years a lot has happened and this would turn into a novel so I will just give you some highlights that lead to my breakdown and my work stress related anxiety and depression

So to save the longer winded I will put down some of what I sent to HR when I first lost control of my emotions

> Robin,

> I have worked for this company for the past 17 dd years and in this time I have been subjected to some less than pleasant things, things that in a normal workplace I would not have to tolerate.

> Some examples include being bitten a couple of times (once by an addict, drawing blood and having to endure the stress of HIV and Hep testing)

> I have been spat on, punched, pushed, tripped, stabbed with a pen and a metal rod, eye gouged, vomited on, urinated on, rammed with trolleys.

> I have had knives and other weapons brandished with intent to cause harm, I have had rocks and other objects thrown at me. I have directly had my life threatened in the order of 100+ times with the same threats extended to my family. I have had to deal with similar threats of harm toward the staff.

> I have been threatened by management if I did not come to work even when very ill to the point of not calling in sick unless I could get into the hospital to justify me not going to work (I admit this was in the first few years of being with the company). There have been other threats made by managers over the years, one included a fire arm.

Annual leave approval, always waiting till the last minute to know if you can actually have the leave so unable to book cheap flights.

I have had an overseas holiday cancelled after being approved in writing and I lost all monies paid.

Between 2 managers (JB and ER) I was not paid or reimbursed for just over 8 weeks of TOIL accrued from working on my days off and excessive overtime sometimes working 19-20 hours (when we traded 24hr) also JB cut 4hrs off my contract because I couldn’t work Mondays during the day. She said this was to be a temporary contract until we could work out another day to make up those hours.

A few weeks later the new management rosters came into play and I was made to work Mondays again but the 4 hours I had lost were never reinstated ( a loss of approx. $6000/pa or around $80 000 till now)

Yearly pay rises were about $20/week and never keep up with CPI. Some years there was no pay rise at all, stating that “I was being paid too much” and Leo, the area manager that had employed me had “given duty managers too high a salary” when first employed) well I can assure you that it was not enough to go through what I have over the years

Security guards only a token gesture for safety; I would walk staff to their cars because they felt safer with me than most of the guards. Woolworths always went for the cheapest deal. I bet if the powers to be were working my shifts they would have 2 guards.

Dealing with theft and undesirables the Safeway way. Yes sir of course you can refund those stolen goods. Yes miss of course you can spit on me when I stop you shoplifting

Quite common since the latest round of staff cuts, I would arrive at work to find the place a mess i.e. displays all trashed, milk loads not done and fresh food department quality issues. The staff are there working back stock or facing the store and never looking at areas that “Duty managers” had to do during their shift. When I got to work, department managers and some store managers saw this as a sign that they could sneak out and go home. I then find out my only floor staff member for the night has been utilized somewhere else and not replaced but the expectation is still to pick up the pieces.

It is acceptable for day staff (most depts.) to not finish daily tasks because they are understaffed but night staff, especially duty managers always had to stay back and finish, or have a pretty good reason why not.

Records of all incidents were always kept.. These consisted of duty manager communication books that contained records of staff and customer issues, any injuries or other major issues plus all of my overtime (toil) owing. I don’t remember when, somewhere around Robert Gibson, they were all thrown out so they could clean up. It happened 2 more times including once by Tony who decided that these records were of no use to him so obviously no one else needed them

Injury both minor and major were fairly common due to the volume of special stock and milk etc. that had to be worked but I would keep working because I thought it unfair to leave for the next manager

Apart from Bob, I very rarely have any type of proper hand over.

Always “encouraged !! “ to work even when sick

Staff morale is the worst that I recall in the past 17yrs as a duty manager dealing with staff

I spent the next year off work in and out of Doctors, psychologists and psychiatrist offices.

I take sleeping tablets at night so I can sleep, I take antidepressants every day to help me cope with life.

To save my typing, most of the below text is taken from an email I sent to Dima (my managers, manager)

In the beginning, I was not even able to go from home to the car park at 3147 without being physically sick. I had incredible support from Bob who had a pretty good understanding of the condition I was/am suffering from. Together we worked on my work place recovery and made some fantastic headway with my integration back into the Deer Park store and although my personal life was still suffering greatly, I was happy for the improvement and the contact with familiar faces.

Although Leister was unsure how to treat me, he was pretty supportive and left the more sensitive hands on interaction to Bob. All of the staff have been fantastic, showing friendship and compassion when I needed it most. Anthony helped me greatly during my time in the storeroom, for that I am grateful.

Stephanie, Bob and I had come up with strategies to deal with stress and anxiety at work. One way to reduce anxiety was to give me warning before a stressful event such as a meeting or major changes in my work format. Another and probably the most important way to deal with stressful events, was to remove myself from the situation and go outside to what we called my safe zone/place. This strategy worked well until the management change.

Ben is a man of few words and until recently I have had very little to do with him.

Tony on the other hand, came in with guns blazing. I think it was the first week he was there, he called me into the office for a chat and without so much as a look into my file, he had me explain to him details of my condition that it took many months for me to share with my psychologist.

It was during this time that I shared about my period of self-harm, and in one of the most unprofessional displays that I have ever seen, he snickered/chuckled. I was so upset and angry that I got up to leave and go to my safe place outside the store. As I turned to leave the office, Tony with his self-righteous grin and a chuckle in his voice asked me to sit down so we could talk. He asked me a second time with the same demeanour, and I responded with “when you F@#$ing grow up” and learn how to speak to people.

I had been in my safe zone outside the store for about 5mins when Tony came out asking me to come back inside and talk. I told him several times to leave me in my safe zone so I could calm down but he kept pushing and finally after me telling him I would be back in soon, he left me alone.

When I was told about the first and final warning for swearing, I was dumbfounded but I didn’t argue the point because I had said it even if I was provoked by a condescending bully who has no people skills. I won’t even mention that there were two other people in the store that told him to F@#$ off in that week. But nothing was said

I learned the hard way in Woolworths that your boss is always right, no matter of the facts or circumstances.

Since Tony has been appointed at 3147, my recovery has been more difficult and my frustration levels have been much higher.

That brings me to the Alain incident, not my finest hour.

When I first learned that Alain was doing the store managers Relief, I was distressed and angry and had thrown an empty cardboard display out of my way to get away from Alain who had come into the meat room and he left pretty quickly. 5mins later I was in the meat room by myself when Ben walked in asking me what was happening.

I responded without thinking something along the lines of if he F@#$$%% comes near me I will slit his throat (although that is not something I would ever do) I was just lashing out it was just an outburst and was not even aware of what I was saying until it came out of my mouth.

It was suggested by recouvre that I be given fair warning of any stressful changes and I thought that may have included Alain doing Ben’s relief.

Alain was one of the major driving forces behind my anxiety and depression and I was totally caught off guard when he turned up that day.

When I was talking to my psychologist today, she said that the way I process anger is different to most people. Most people go from a one to maybe a two before they interpret what is happening and correct themselves but she said that my problem is now I go from a one straight to a five.

I am not making excuses, although I am trying to explain myself a little (although not very well)

I am sorry for what I said; I know it was said in anger and not an actual threat.

I am not going to beg for my job, however I do promise that I have been trying my hardest to do my job and get mentally well and fit again. I also believe that if Ben hadn’t come into the meat room questioning me when he did, I would have got over the initial shock and calmed down and articulated my thoughts more calmly.

If I still have a job, I assure that I will keep trying my best to my job and keep on the road to a hopefully full recovery.

I am very sorry for walking out today but I was starting to lose my grip on the situation and didn’t know how to come back from it.

I will be at the meeting on Thursday but I will not be bringing a support person as I don’t really have anybody since I closed myself of from everyone socially


So the long and short of it is I was fired for being the person that Safeway made me into and they dumped me like a hot potato instead of sitting down and talking to me.

Now I am virtually unemployable as who wants to hire a crazy person with emotional issues .

My story

Woolworths doesn’t like people on workers compensation.

After a very emotional and “yes” inappropriate outburst they fired me without due care for my medical condition that they had actually caused. I have been left virtually unemployable and unsure of my future

I have suffered for many years from work place stress and anxiety caused by bullying and unrealistic work demands however this was only diagnosed a couple of years ago when I had a breakdown.

After a debilitating year off work, unable to carry out even the most basic tasks, I returned to work slowly, aided by Bob who was at that time the assistant manager and return to work coordinator.

Things were going well, I was getting better (being at work) but still had some anger issues to work on.

Everything started to go downhill when they changed Asm’s and Tony Lastrina replaced Bob as my RTW coordinator. Although I was being more productive at work, emotionally I was a wreck.

Most of the Woolworths upper management condone this style of aggressive and bullying management at least that is what Dima showed when he excused Tony behaviour in dealing with me and my medical condition. Having someone laugh about the lowest point in my life is much more damaging to the company’s image than me using the word F@#K in a sentence.

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