Another win for Namibia’s Shoprite staff

Shoprite Delft (Provided)
Shoprite Delft (Provided)

Shoprite has once again given in to pressure from its employees in Namibia, withdrawing its court case against the workers after it earlier withdrew a lawsuit.

The retailer abandoned the disciplinary process against 93 workers after unions in South Africa and Namibia made calls to boycott the supermarket.

On July 30 employees and residents, with the help of Centre for People’s Resistance (CPR), took to the streets to protest against the “unjust” disciplinary hearings.

In a statement sent to City Press, CPR said they were celebrating their “important” victory against Shoprite, but the withdrawal came with only one condition.

“The workers agreed to accept final written warnings for one reason: they do not want to be engaged with Shoprite in a long and drawn-out labour dispute which would not be in the workers’ interest or that of Shoprite,” said CPR.

They added they would continue to fight in solidarity with the “exploited and the wretched of the earth”.

“The workers [still] want to focus on what their protest action in 2015 was really about: improving their working conditions, which includes better salaries and benefits. These are the things that Shoprite continues to deny them.”

The employees were being disciplined for participating in an unprotected strike, which they said was a direct reaction to Shoprite’s unlawful conduct and unfair labour practice.

Uno Katjipuka, the lawyer representing the employees, said last week they were going to fight until all the claims were withdrawn.

“I am relieved they get to keep their jobs, as crappy as they are. Going forward this is something that they can and will work to improve with the help of the unions,” said Katjipuka.

The South African supermarket chain was suing the workers for N$4.5 million (R4.5 million) over the strike that allegedly caused it losses in profit as it had to spend money on legal costs and additional staff and security.

Court documents showed Shoprite claimed the workers resolved to instigate an unlawful strike with the intention of breaching their contracts. They also refused to execute the employer’s instructions to work. The retailer added that the workers downed tools and did not leave the premises – which caused them economic loss and reputational harm.

A Shoprite employee who asked to remain anonymous said, “We are grateful, particularly to our lawyer and the public. We feel we are in a country where people can stand up against those who want to oppress others, even though we went back to work and nothing has been done,” said the employee.

She said they should at least be given one of the things they demanded. “It does not look promising, maybe the unions will be able to pick up the issue at the level where they [Shoprite] will be able to understand and give us something.”

South African Federation of Trade Unions’ general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi agreed with the Namibian lawyer who said pressure from SA made the retailer give up.

“They are a South African-based company. When they got the pressure from SA they had to think twice. I thank the South African unions for standing up in solidarity with their Namibian counterparts. The people of this country also reacted; they could see the impact of the consumer boycott immediately,” said Vavi

“I am happy that South African unions and ordinary people took them on. An injury to one is an injury to all. The next thing Shoprite can expect from us is to liberate all casual workers – they must make them permanent.”

Namibia’s Labour Ministry spokesperson, Bro-Matthew Shinguadja said the ministry was not surprised by the victory.

“We ask Shoprite to work together with the unions so that labour issues are addressed and resolved amicably,” he said.

Shoprite Group said they decided to offer final written warnings instead of disciplinary action “in the interest of all parties”.

Earlier this month they also withdrew a summons to collect compensation from the employees for loss of sales, legal costs and damages incurred as a result of the strike.

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