Shoprite uses private paramilitary security to intimidate workers

GIWUSA members picketing outside Transpharm plant in Stikland, Cape Town. All photos and video by Mzi Velapi

A heavy security presence has marked the Cape Town leg of a strike by Transpharm workers, led by the General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa’s (GIWUSA). Transpharm, a subsidiary of Shoprite Holdings, hired the services of a private paramilitary security company, that on its website says is modelled on “American Secret Services”, to deal with the striking workers.

Clad in grey and white camouflage with black bullet-proof vests, shotguns and Rottweilers, members of the TSU Tactical Response Team have been standing outside the Transpharm plant in Stikland near Bellville since the start of the strike in Cape Town. “I don’t understand their reasons for them to bring in security with guns and dogs,” said GIWUSA’s Western Cape branch secretary, Abeedah Adams.

The majority of senior management at TSU Africa are former members of the South African Police Services.

The workers at the Cape Town plant joined the nationwide strike – that started last week Thursday – on Tuesday this week. According to Adams, the workers are demanding a R12,500 minimum wage, equal work for equal pay and they want to be insourced. “The workers also want a fair grading system for workers doing a similar job,” Adams said.

The strikers this week picketed outside Shoprite head offices in Brackenfell. The nationwide strike involves about 400 workers according to the South African Federation of Trade Unions to which GIWUSA is affiliated.

Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, the workers told Elitsha that they do not have medical aid even though Transpharm distributes pharmaceutical products and surgical equipment to pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, dispensing doctors and veterinary surgeons across South Africa. “From my salary of R4,800 a month as a picker, I would not be able to afford to buy the medication that I work with,” said the 27-year-old worker. As a picker she gets given an invoice and has to find the medication that is needed before passing it on to the checker to make sure that it corresponds with the invoice.

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“The toilets are located in the same area as our locker rooms. You do not have privacy when you are in the toilet. The condition of the canteen is also bad – in fact it is a garage. When it rains those who have motorbikes keep them there,” she said. She said the striking workers were recently made permanent after being with a labour broker for years.

A security guard with a dog making sure that the workers do not come close to the main entrance of Transpharm.

Another worker who works as a driver and gets paid about R6,200 a month said that the company does not want to pay them over-time. “If you come after you were supposed to knock off because of traffic on the road, our manager always tells us that we were driving slowly on purpose,” he said. He also told Elitsha that the company deducts the lunch hour from time worked even when it is so busy there is no time to take lunch. “They deduct the lunch hour and we are always time-short and we have to come work on Saturdays to make up for that time without payment,” he said. According to the worker, drivers do not have access to the toilets or the canteen as they have to ask one of the workers inside to give them access.

In an emailed statement, Shoprite ignored specific questions put by Elitsha and responded instead with a generic statement that it offers market-related salaries and that they are confident in delivering to their customers.

“We have always made an effort to base dealings with our employees on the principles of fairness and respect and in compliance with the provisions of prevailing labour legislation. We also strive to maintain amicable relations with labour unions who are sufficiently representative of our employees,” it said.

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