Shoprite Namibia pulls summons against workers after SA unions call for boycott

General secretary of Saftu, Zwelinzima Vavi addressing the media. Picture: Jabu Kumalo
General secretary of Saftu, Zwelinzima Vavi addressing the media. Picture: Jabu Kumalo

Shoprite has bowed to pressure from unions and has withdrawn the summons against 98 of its workers in Namibia.

The company was suing the workers for N$4.5 million (the equivalent of R4.5 million) after they embarked on a strike seeking improved conditions a salary increase in 2015

Unions lambasted the retailer, and called for a boycott of all stores across South Africa.

When City Press contacted Shoprite for comment on the unions’ response it confirmed the withdrawal.

“Shoprite Namibia has in the interest of all parties withdrawn the summons issued in Namibia to a number of staff members of Shoprite supermarkets in Windhoek. The summons followed a cost order issued by the High Court of Namibia in November 2015 in favour of Shoprite against the group of employees, for loss of sales, legal costs and damages incurred as a result of unlawful strike action in December 2014 and July 2015.”

Long-serving trade unionist Zwelinzima Vavi has berated the supermarket chain for its continued “brutal exploitation” of workers.

Speaking to City Press on Friday, the South African Federation of Trade Unions’ general secretary said the retailer had long forgone the principle of equal pay for equal work, choosing to rather exploit workers for the gain of the company’s executives.

“The company’s longevity can been credited to its ruthless business principles. Shoprite has always maintained a permanent work force of only 20% with 80% of its staff always being comprised of causal workers and underpaid workers.

“Some of these workers earn as little as R4500 a month – a complete disgrace when one compares that with what the executives at Shoprite earn,” said Vavi.

His sentiments coincided with a call from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa on Friday for South Africans to boycott all Shoprite stores.

Shoprite in Namibia sued the 98 workers for N$4.5 million after they embarked on a strike for improved conditions and a 20% salary increase in 2015.

“They want to punish them for daring to fight for their rights. According to local media reports, instead of meeting with workers and engaging meaningfully with their demands, Shoprite sent the police to arrest them,” said Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim.

Vavi was quick to add that the call was not only from Numsa or Saftu but “147 organisations that include trade unions and other interested stakeholders who had met and jointly denounce the manner in which the company exploits workers”.

“In dealing with Shoprite, we will make an example of what a combined effort can archive,” said a passionate Vavi.

Jim echoed Vavi’s sentiments saying: “Shoprite is an abusive company whose success depends on the rampant exploitation of labour. They treat workers as slaves and even in South Africa, they have a terrible reputation as an employer. Earlier this year workers affiliated to NUM went on strike for this reason.”

The Numsa secretary general said his union stood in solidarity with workers at Shoprite.

“They had no choice but to embark on a strike. Had they not embarked on a strike, the world would not know about the suffering inflicted on them by the cruel management of the company. We support calls by the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (Manwu), which is calling for a boycott of all its stores,” said Jim.

Shoprite’s treatment of workers also made headlines in Zambia in 2013, when the Zambian government threatened to withdraw the retailer’s licence after it dismissed employees for embarking on a wage strike.

The company was forced to improve wages by 34% after the state threatened to shut Shoprite down over the low wages it were paying.

Despite withdrawing the summons, Shoprite maintained that “internal disciplinary hearings against these employees are continuing and a final outcome was expected in the next few weeks”.

The retailer also added that: “Shoprite Group has a long standing view that all workers are entitled to reasonable and decent working conditions. We have always made an effort to base dealings with our own employees on the principles of fairness and respect and in compliance with provisions of prevailing labour legislation.

“Our business in Namibia is consistently opening new stores and in the past five years have created 1275 new job opportunities in the country, and is hoping for a speedy conclusion of this matter so as to allow the supermarket group to continue serving its customers and create stable jobs unhindered.”

A passionate Vavi said regardless of the Shoprite’s treatment of workers in Namibia, the company still had a lot to answer to with regards to its treatment of workers locally.

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