Phillip Hall was trying to keep a good distance from a customer at the JB Hi-Fi store he works at, when the customer told him the coronavirus wasn’t real.
“I was backing away from him, and he was like, ‘it’s not even real, you know’,” Hall told BuzzFeed News.
Throughout the (very real) coronavirus pandemic, which has closed Australia’s bars, restaurants, playgrounds and gyms, entertainment chain JB Hi-Fi has continued to open its doors.
But almost 1,000 of its workers, including Hall, have signed a petition calling for stores to close while the pandemic continues and for employees to be put on paid leave. They say they don’t feel safe working in JB Hi-Fi’s stores.
The popular electronics retailer now also faces a potential investigation into safety precautions at its stores over its handling of the coronavirus risk.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge wrote last week to state workplace watchdog SafeWork NSW requesting an urgent investigation into working conditions at the store.
Shoebridge outlined complaints his office has received from workers, including allegations of the provision of ineffective cleaning products and hand sanitiser, and a lack of social distancing inside stores.
SafeWork NSW told BuzzFeed News that it was investigating the issues and could not comment further.
In an escalation, the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU), which is facilitating the petition, is also now calling on customers to avoid JB Hi-Fi stores and shop online instead. (A rival union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, wants retail stores to remain open.)
Hall has worked in the music and movies section of JB Hi-Fi’s World Square store in Sydney since late 2017, recently switching from full-time to casual so he could start studying.
When the crisis began to escalate in Australia in March, he assumed it was inevitable that all JB Hi-Fi stores would close.
“People would normally be flicking through [movies and CDs] constantly, sometimes they’ll touch every single rack,” he said. “And you’ve got all the display computers and iPads and things, so it’s a very interactive space.”