Saccawu starts strike at Makro, Game - but Massmart says only a quarter of union members take part

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Saccawu spokesperson Sithembele Tshwete said the union held pickets at Massmart outlets across the country.
Saccawu spokesperson Sithembele Tshwete said the union held pickets at Massmart outlets across the country.
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  • The South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers' Union started its strike at Massmart outlets on Friday with pickets.
  • Massmart CEO Mitch Slape said the company engaged for many months with Saccawu leadership, only to be stonewalled.
  • Cosatu tweeted support for a consumer boycott.

As the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu) started its strike at Massmart retailers on Friday, the union is also considering secondary strikes and broad consumer boycotts.

The union announced its intentions to strike at Massmart last week, with an intention of frustrating operations at as many as 229 Makro, Game, Makro Fruitspot, Builders Warehouse, Builders Express, Builders Trade Depot, Builders Superstores, Rhino Cash and Carry, Jumbo Cash and Carry and Cambridge stores around the country.

At issue is the procedure followed when Massmart retrenched 335 employees at Game stores in terms of section 189 of the Labour Relations Act earlier this year. The Labour Court has granted the union an opportunity to appeal the retrenchment process.

Saccawu said there was also a dispute regarding wages and working conditions at Massbuild (Builders Warehouse and its other building material brands) and that workers demanded a R500 across-the-board increase.

Massmart has lamented intimidation by the union in the run-up to the strike.

The company also said it has contingency plans to avoid disruptions and that fewer that 23% of Saccawu members supported the industrial action.

The company told Fin24 via email that demonstrations were sporadic on Friday, with a mid-morning peak of 36 pickets, compared to 413 stores that we operate nationwide, with picketing activity dropping significantly as the day progressed.

Saccawu spokesperson Sithembele Tshwete said the union held pickets at Massmart outlets across the country.

Tshwete added that there was no movement from the employer in terms of demands and the strike was thus likely to continue into next week, including Black Friday. Over the weekend, Saccawu will deliberate about whether it will launch a consumer boycott. 

"They have been part of our pickets around the country. Cosatu and SACP have supported us. Cosatu has urged its affiliates to support us at the picket lines. Over the weekend we are discussing the issue of how to support and arrange a consumer boycott," said Tshwete.

On Friday, Cosatu tweeted support for a consumer boycott of Massmart stores.

Tshwete said while the union was willing to suspend industrial action if Massmart is willing to budge on wages at Massbuild or retrenchments at Game, but that if the employer is not receptive, the union would rope in civil society organisations to support a consumer boycott.

Tshwete said pickets have been peaceful and there has been no crossing of picket lines or intimidation on the part of the union or its members.

Massmart senior vice president for corporate affairs Brian Leroni said Saccawu's approach had been unhelpful in the context of the many constructive partnerships that are required to achieve inclusive economic recovery in South Africa.

"This intended strike action coincides with a time of year when Saccawu members will potentially have higher household expenditure resulting from festive season expenses. It is also a period when Massmart employees can typically earn high sales commissions as the result of increased foot traffic in our stores," said Leroni. 

Leroni said strike certificates, that were submitted to Massmart late on Tuesday, covered the areas of supposed dispute including a 10% wage increase at Builders, although there are Builder's employees who wish to accept the company's offer of 4%, rather than to go on strike.

"These are issues that could cost striking Saccawu members up to 25% of their November wages, on the view that they may embark on a week-long strike, as sometimes referenced in the Union's recent public statements," Leroni said.

Massmart CEO Mitch Slape said the company engaged for many months with Saccawu leadership, including with the assistance of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration with proposals, only to be stonewalled.

"Strike contingency plans have been implemented to ensure the continued smooth operation of our stores, which includes mobilising and deploying Massmart experienced contract employees who are familiar with our store processes," said Slape.

An order of the Labour Appeals Court of South Africa issued on Monday, which Fin24 has seen, has granted leave to appeal to Saccawu's application against Game retrenchments which the Labour Court upheld.

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