Walmart job talks deadlock

2013-10-20 14:00

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Merger deal with Massmart may get referred back to tribunal if no resolution over retrenched workers is reached

The merger between Massmart and Walmart will be referred back to the competition tribunal for adjudication if ongoing talks between the competition commission and Massmart reach a deadlock.

Massmart is currently locked in a struggle with labour union Saccawu over the reinstatement of retrenched workers – a condition of the merger approval by the tribunal.

It has also already missed two deadlines for compliance, which were set by the competition commission.

“Only when we reach a deadlock can the commission refer to the tribunal,” deputy commissioner Trudy Makhaya told City Press this week.

But Massmart is holding its ground with the firm’s executive in charge of corporate affairs, Brian Leroni, telling City Press it would welcome an opportunity to state its case before the tribunal.

“Massmart stands by its position that it has complied with the reinstatement condition, but continues to engage, in good faith, with the competition commission in this regard,” said Leroni.

There is a dispute between Saccawu and Massmart over which individuals were former employees and which are to be rehired.

Workers are complaining that they are being offered jobs in places to which it is impossible for them to travel.

Makhaya said Massmart had presented its plan for the reinstatement to the commission but it seems not all the workers were reinstated.

The numbers differ depending on which side you speak to, but as many as half could still remain unemployed.

Makhaya said Massmart had presented various reasons why all these workers could not be reinstated.

She said the commission has proposed an alternative plan to Massmart and this is currently the focus of the negotiations, adding that she could not divulge any of its details.

“We need to make sure that the offer is received by the workers.

We have to account for every employee,” said Makhaya.

“If they reject our counterplan, then we will refer back to the tribunal,” she added.

The Competition Appeal Court ruled in March 2011 that the merger could go ahead and in its judgment stated that 503 Massmart employees, who had been retrenched in the build-up to the merger, should be reinstated.

Judge Dennis Davis also ruled these workers should receive backdated payments from when they were retrenched in 2009 and 2010 to the date of his judgment.

Former Massmart employees who City Press spoke to this week said they did not want to be named for fear of victimisation.

They said that some former employees were offered jobs, but in places far from where they lived.

“It was impossible to travel that far,” said one former employee.

Another worker accused Massmart of “bullying”, saying: “We need help. It’s been 20?months since we were meant to be reinstated and 43 months since we were retrenched.”

The former Massmart employee said that at a store in Boksburg, Massmart took 1 out of 25 former employees back and in Benoni they took 5 out of 20.

“The labour department and tribunals must take a stand against this behaviour,” he said.

The Massmart-Walmart merger received vociferous opposition from Saccawu as well as from government, spearheaded by Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.

Leroni said Massmart made offers of reinstatement to all 503 retrenched employees, resulting in the successful reinstatement of all those employees who returned to work for reinstatement.

“Death benefits were paid to the estates of those employees who were known to be deceased at the time that the reinstatement process was initiated,” he said.

“The only employees who have not been reinstated are those whose whereabouts are unknown or who chose to decline reinstatement.”

Leroni said that the Competition Appeal Court judgment did not impose a deadline on the merged entity and that personalised registered letters were sent to the last known addresses of all 503 former employees.

“In addition, we endeavoured telephonically and via telegram to contact all retrenched employees for whom we had contact details on record,” said Leroni.

“Our records reflect that 75 employees did not sign for and collect their letters of reinstatement.

“Massmart remains prepared to consider for reinstatement any of those retrenched employees who can show good cause for not accepting our original offers of reinstatement.

“Employees who raised legitimate concerns regarding the stores to which they had been reinstated were redeployed to stores that were in better proximity to their homes,” said Leroni.

Shoprite fights back

Massmart has its eyes on the perishable-foods market in South Africa’s malls and competitor Shoprite does not like it one bit.

Shoprite has launched an urgent interdict to prevent Game stores from introducing perishable-food items and liquor in the Cape Gate shopping centre.

Massmart has responded by taking the issue to the competition commission.

Massmart has confirmed that retail competitor Shoprite was using an exclusivity clause in its Cape Gate store-lease agreement as the basis for the interdict.

In court papers, Shoprite has argued that it will suffer significant financial loss if Massmart’s Game store starts to sell perishable-food items.

The competition commission is already investigating whether exclusivity agreements in leasing contracts are anti-competitive.

It has identified exclusivity clauses as potentially resulting in anti-competitive outcomes.

Massmart said the interdict was based on the mistaken perception that the Game lease agreement prevents Game from trading in food products.

“This perception is inaccurate,” said Massmart corporate affairs executive Brian Leroni.

“It appears that the interdict represents an attempt to stifle legitimate competition by Game and is, by implication, prejudicial to South African consumers.”

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