Edgar Brandt WINDHOEK - While local labour union leaders, political leaders, government officials and business organisations have called on Namibians to boycott Shoprite, there is a difference of opinion on whether all Shoprite Holdings Limited’s affiliates should be boycotted as well. The boycott stems from Shoprite decision to sue 93 of its low-paying workers for N$4.5 million over a July 2015 strike for improved employment conditions and wage increases. The South African-based Shoprite Holdings Limited is a massive organisation, employing more than 140 000 people across 15 African countries, whose brand portfolio includes retailers such as Checkers, Usave, OK Furnitures, Computicket, OK Franchise Division, Hungry Lion and House & Home, hence the call by some people to extend the boycott to all its retailers. While the primary business for Shoprite Holdings Limited is food retailing, the group’s business reach extends to a broad range of goods and services including household products, furniture, pharmaceuticals and financial services. Commenting on the ongoing fiasco yesterday, the Vice-President of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), Phillip Munenguni, said he believes only the Shoprite entities who are known for exploiting workers should be boycotted. “We are only aware of Shoprite and Checkers who are paying their people peanuts but we are not including other Shoprite entities. However, the extension of the boycott can only be made to subsidiaries who are known to unfairly treat their workers and who are ignoring Namibia’s labour laws,” said Munenguni. Nevertheless, he urged Namibian workers to unite against capitalism. “If government is not going to revoke Shoprite’s operating license, then the Namibian people must be ready to unite if Shoprite does not withdraw the case against the workers,” he stated. Also weighing in on the ongoing saga, spokesperson of the Popular Democratic Movement’s Youth League (PDMYL), Maximalliant Katjimune, condemned what he called Shoprite’s continued exploitation of the Namibian working class. “Shoprite’s continued exploitation of its employees is the epitome of brutal neo-colonial practices whose aim is to protect white monopoly capital and ensure that the black masses will never see true economic emancipation in their lifetime. Not only does Shoprite see it fit to pay it’s workers peanuts, but it further subjects it’s workers to legal action for exercising their democratic rights to engage in demonstrations/public gatherings as a form of expressing their dissatisfaction,” said Katjimune in a statement. He continued that companies like Shoprite should never be allowed to enslave Namibian workers in the modern democratic dispensation. “Their brutal capitalistic practices are totally unacceptable. The Popular Democratic Movement is indeed a Free Market Economy party, but former President Barack Obama greatly remarked that economic emancipation is not going to be achieved by hardcore capitalism, communism or socialism but only by a fine mix of the three. We thus encourage Shoprite to refrain from practicing first world capitalism on a third world country,” said Katjimune. He therefore encouraged all PDMYL members, and all Namibians, to join in the boycott of all Shoprite entities, adding: “We cannot allow our workers to be exploited in such a manner.” Towards the end of 2017, a local labour expert Herbert Jauch, wrote an open letter to the Minister of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, Zephania Kameeta, where he requested the ministry to stop procuring any goods from the Shoprite-Checkers Group of Companies. Jauch accused Shoprite-Checkers of alleged exploitative labour practices. He therefore called on Kameeta to publicly express his support for Shoprite workers and to announce that the ministry he heads will not make any further purchases from Shoprite-Checkers group until disciplinary charges against workers were dropped. Jauch emphasised that the Shoprite-Checkers Group of Companies does not adhere to Namibian laws, pays low salaries and exploit workers at the watch of authorities without any action being taken against them. Meanwhile, Shoprite’s media team sent out a generic response to media queries yesterday, saying that the 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. The summons issued in Namibia to a number of staff members who formerly worked in Shoprite supermarkets in Windhoek, follows a cost order issued by the High Court of Namibia in November 2015 in favour of Shoprite against a group of employees, for loss of sales, legal costs and damages incurred as a result of unlawful strikes in December 2014 and July 2015,” reads the statement. The statement added that Shoprite Namibia 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”. In the legal action Shoprite Namibia has taken against workers in the Namibian courts, the company demands that workers compensate it for an alleged loss of profits, legal costs of court action and disciplinary hearings that followed a 2015 strike, as well as the costs incurred to employ temporary labour while the workers were on strike. In court documents, Shoprite claims workers were aware that the selected strike dates represented the busiest trading days for the company and consequently resulted in loss of profit losses and reputational damage. The company is therefore suing 93 employees, who barely earn a decent salary, for N$288 000 over the alleged loss of profits from sales that were lost on July 28 2015 as well as for N$3,4 million for legal costs of a Labour Court case, with which the company obtained an interdict against the strike and for the costs of subsequent disciplinary hearings, and N$189 750 for the costs of employing temporary labour on July 28 and 29, 2015. Shoprite Namibia also wants the employees to be ordered to pay N$616 398 to the company for the costs of the venue that was used for the workers’ disciplinary hearing.
New Era Reporter
2018-08-02 10:01:45 10 months ago