Namibians threaten to boycott Shoprite if workers demands are not met
By Melania Simeon
Windhoek – A crowd of Namibians gathered in unity today in front of Shoprite supermarket and demanded that the company complies with the workers’ demands for improved working conditions and reinstatement of workers dismissed in 2015, or else face a boycott.
The angry crowd, in collaboration with the Economic and Social Justice Trust and other organisations, convened a demonstration in front of Shoprite Katutura premises this afternoon.
The demonstrators gave a petition to the Shoprite management demanding that the company considers the workers’ demands for the disciplinary charges against hundreds of workers that were dismissed in 2015.
A few years ago, the company ignored wage proposals submitted by workers and their unions and instead decided on wages and benefits on its own. Shoprite ignored the workers’ demand for transport and housing allowances, medical aid and long service awards. In 2014, Shoprite went as far as granting increases only to workers who were not members of a particular trade union.
Workers were told to resign from the union in exchange for an increase. This grossly unfair labour practice only ended when workers launched a case with the Office of the Labour Commissioner. In June 2015, workers submitted their wage proposals to the Shoprite management but were once again ignored. In light of Shoprite’s refusal to bargain at all (let alone in good faith) and angered by the company’s decision to unilaterally impose increases, workers decided to go on strike on 28 and 29 July 2015.
Economic and Social Justice Trust chairperson, Herbert Jauch, stressed that development ministries needed to stop supporting Shoprite until justice takes place for the dismissed workers and until Shoprite treated its employees humanely.
“Namibians should unite and take a stand, development ministries should also stop supporting Shoprite as that company is exploiting ordinary Namibians,” he charged.
Social Justice activist and a resident of Katutura, Monica Nambelela, expressed rage that this is what ordinary workers in Namibia went through on a daily basis, and that Shoprite was just another example of how elites in managerial positions violated workers rights.
“Residents of Katutura are your typical workers that are exploited every day, workers are dismissed unfairly when they stand up for their rights because they are powerless, but we will show Shoprite who is in real power, we will unite and defend our fellow Shoprite workers.”
“They opened their branches in Namibia and we support them whole heartedly, and this is what they do to our people?” said Nambelela.
Another resident of Katutura, Ndapewa Michael, said: “If they are not complying with the demands, then they should go back to South Africa because they are exploiting our brothers and sisters with labour violations. I was on my way to buy groceries from Shoprite right now, but changed my mind, when I heard from the crowd what they were demonstrating for.”
Shoprite workers were absent from the strike as their usual lunch hour of 1pm was allegedly moved to between 10am 11am to prevent them from taking part in the strike which was also scheduled to start during their lunch hour.
An investigation was conducted by the Ministry of Labour which produced a report dated 13 August 2015 which made a number of findings, namely that Shoprite does not have a formal internal grievance procedure or disciplinary code. This has allowed Shoprite to essentially do what it wants to when it comes to discipline matters. The preferred tactic seems to be handing out written and final written warnings for any and all offences, without any kind of hearing being provided, the report said.
The report also revealed that decisions concerning the workers’ wages and employment conditions are taken in South Africa. It said Shoprite Namibia does not comply with the requirements of the Namibian Labour Act, in particular not when it comes to the obligation of collective bargaining and the duty to bargain in good faith. Workers experience many incidents of improper treatment by management. These range from insulting employees in front of customers, being given the worst shifts, not being promoted (either from part-time to permanent or upward) to being subjected to tribalism.
Management from Shoprite Namibia headquarters could not be reached for comment as calls went unanswered on Friday.