Shoprite told to drop charges

A second organisation has called on the South African supermarket chain to drop disciplinary charges against workers who participated in a strike two years ago.

19 May 2017 | Labour

The Economic and Social Justice Trust (ESJT) has called on retail giant Shoprite to drop disciplinary charges against its workers, saying they cannot allow the “mistreatment” of workers to continue.

While Shoprite management indicated that they would respond soon on the matter, the Trust's chairperson, Herbert Jauch, said the exploitation of workers had been continuing for a long time and should end.

The Trust said for almost two years, over 100 workers at Shoprite in Windhoek had been facing disciplinary charges for taking part in a strike in 2015, adding that Shoprite had already dismissed 176 workers at Rundu and Gobabis. According to the union, the company continues to violate workers' rights and this must be stopped.

“The Economic and Social Justice Trust demands that Shoprite drop all disciplinary charges against its workers and that the company starts negotiating with its workers in good faith. Workers' rights and fairness must be safeguarded as we cannot allow the mistreatment of workers to continue,” Jauch said.

He said the reason why the unions representing Shoprite employees were not succeeding forcing the company to comply with Namibian laws was because they were divided.

“For the past four years, there were three different trade unions operating at Shoprite; none of them represent an outright majority. Shoprite seized the opportunity provided by a divided labour movement to side-line the unions' altogether… Shoprite has continuously violated workers' rights and used the rivalry among trade unions to its own advantage,” Jauch charged.

Jauch said an average employee at Shoprite earned less than N$2 500, which he said was “totally unacceptable” considering the fact that the company last year “declared a profit of about N$130 billion of which N$50 million was diverted to then chief executive officer Whitey Basson as a bonus”.

“The average worker at Shoprite still earns about N$2 500 per month or less. As they receive no transport allowance, the workers spend between N$480 and N$960 per month on transport, depending on where they live. They also have to pay rent, on average N$1 000, even for a shack in a backyard. This is before they can even think of food, water and gas for cooking,” Jauch argued.

Jauch said the disciplinary action route Shoprite has taken was also a costly exercise for the company. He claimed it had cost Shoprite about N$3.3 million over a period of 51 days of hearings – excluding venue rentals and legal fees.

When contacted, Shoprite Namibia's human resources officer, Karen Smith, said she was aware of the statement issued by the Trust and they would respond soon.

The Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau) has called on Shoprite employees countrywide to join the union in order for their concerns to be heard.

Nafau concurred with Jauch that the disciplinary cases must be called off.

The workers in 2015 were charged with violating several company regulations - participating in an unlawful strike, gross insubordination, absence from duty without authorisation, incitement and the organisation of an unlawful strike, assault, destruction of private property and interfering with a company investigation.

KENYA KAMBOWE

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