Walmart in South Africa The Trade Union Response So Far
Launch of the UNI Walmart Global Alliance
Prompted by Walmart’s recent entry into South Africa and its well-known anti-union stance of Walmart, the global union UNI convened a summit to discuss an international approach to the problems workers have with Walmart around the world. On the 5th – 7th October 2012, 55 worker delegates representing twenty Unions from 12 countries gathered in Los Angeles, USA to launch a UNI Walmart Global Alliance.
Partly inspired by SACCAWU’s Anti-Walmart Coalition established during its campaign to oppose the entry of Walmart into the local South African market over the past two years, UNI Global Union convened the conference of all unions organising at Walmart from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Europe, Nicaragua, South Africa, Switzerland, Uruguay, USA and Zambia who all participated.
Some of the problems experienced at Walmart reported by delegates were the following:
Extensive use of non-standard forms of employment
Gross violations of labour law as well as the company’s own employment codes that were driving fear amongst workers
Consistent denial of union rights and access to workplaces for trade unionists
The Summit convened at a time when there was a growing militancy and determination in the USA with Walmart workers engaged in strike actions at numerous Walmart distribution centres and stores throughout the country. As an act of international worker solidarity and consistent with the Summit objectives delegates joined striking workers in LA returning to work after a successful 15 day strike. This act of solidarity was warmly welcomed by even those Walmart employees that were not on strike.
The discussions at the Summit centred around:
Organising Walmart workers around the world;
Building national and international networks of Walmart workers and unions;
Outlining goals and tasks of the alliance;
Developing actions to support the UFCW’s “Our Walmart” Campaign in the USA, where Walmart is the most resistant to freedom of association – not allowing and recognising Unions at the workplace.
The Summit also concluded that there is a need for action around the globe to confront, overcome and reverse the extreme hostility, anti-union and super-exploitation experienced by workers employed at Walmart. To this end the Summit delegates committed themselves to a Global Day Of Action against Walmart for the 14th – 15th December 2012 that focused on:
Decent Work and against precarious forms of employment
Freedom of Association
Forcing Walmart to comply with labour laws and core labour standards
The Summit delegates also committed themselves to consider expanding the campaign beyond December 2012 and to intensify its action against Walmart’s philosophy, arguably the worst multi-national corporation in the world when it comes to workers’ rights.
Since the summit, protests and campaigning against Walmart in the USA reached new heights with thousands participating in national strikes and protests at several Walmart stores on “Black Friday”, the 23rd of November – the day that followed thanksgiving and the beginning of the shopping season there.
Thousands March Against Walmart in Los Angeles
View videos of some of the protests and strikes here:
In South Africa, the 10th Congress of the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (SACCAWU) resolved to intensify its recruitment throughout the sector to realise its target of having the overwhelming majority of workers at Massmart/Walmart to become members of SACCAWU as part of the of the global campaign. At its national congress Saccawu targeted 2013 to campaign for bargaining at group level.
Reinstatement vs Re-employment of 503 retrenched workers
In our last WW bulletin we reported about the High Court tribunal’s decision to reinstate the 503 workers who were retrenched in 2010 by Massmart in preparation for the Walmart takeover of the company. Saccawu and the issue remain in dispute as the company insist on only re-employing the workers, i.e. appointing them as if they were new employees from the date of the High Court decision instead of reinstating them to continue their employment from the date of the retrenchment. But there are other concerns that workers and Saccawu have and according to Mduduzi Mbongwe, Saccawu’s deputy general secretary (pictured right), “the process is still unfolding even now but there are some challenges one aspect is that some workers were placed too far from their places of residence, we have an example of someone who stays in Orlando but placed in Hammanskraal so obviously there are difficulties but we are attending and engaging to address those difficulties but the other difficulty which has been recently brought to our attention is that in as much as that reinstatement letters are from Massmart but the pay slips of some of these workers more especially those who are placed at Cambridge reflect names of labour broking companies. It’s an issue we are dealing with with the company to a large extent we think that the company shows signs of reluctance to implement that court order but we want to first test their commitment before we can take it back to the competition commission for the enforcement of the conditions”.Listen to the full interview with Mduduzi by clicking here.
Since the Competitions Commission is empowered to monitor and intervene regarding Walmart’s conduct during its takeover of Massmart, it is currently deliberating on the matter to decide on the issue.
Closing down of Massfresh distribution centre
Recently the company unilaterally decided to close down one of its distribution centres in Johannesburg, Massfresh and restructure the operation affecting 88 workers. In order to do this it offered the workers early retirement, voluntary retrenchment and relocation to other parts of the company. Saccawu has disputed this move by the company and in its opposition is citing the terms of the court order that specifically forbids the company from embarking on any restructuring that will negatively impact on employees for a period of two years. Most notably is that this term of the court order expires on 31 May 2013 along with the protection of Saccawu’s bargaining rights and collective agreements.
But what about the workers?
INTERVIEW WITH YVONNE ROOINEK, A RETRENCHED WORKER FROM GAME STORES
Yvonne Rooinek lives in Goleksdaal on the East Rand of Johannesburg and worked for the Game store in Eastgate before she was retrenched in preparation for Wal-Mart’s takeover of Massmart in South Africa. After the Competition Tribunal ordered the company to reinstate all 503 workers that were retrenched, there are still about 150 who remain outside fighting for their reinstatement. Rooinek has been sitting at home for the past 3 years and it appears that the company has political motives for not reinstating her and her comrades. She spoke to Muzi Mzoyi of Workers’ World Media Productions about her situation and that of other victims of Wal-mart/ Mass-mart’s merger.
Where did you hear about the news of being reinstated?
I am following the news basically what is happening I Google on my phone and I follow the news. And on the outcome of March I was sitting in front my TV and I heard that and there were calls coming also “did you hear we have been reinstated …503 people must go back to work”, I was so excited that at least I am going to get my job back.
How much has changed since the introduction of Wal-Mart?
A lot of thing have change like as I was quoting as I say in my store they use to update me and tell me that people are being suspended left, right and centre and people are being dismissed left, right and centre since we are not there anymore and there is no action from shop-stewards that is in the stores you understand. I think a lot has changed there.
Why are you still not re-instated 3 years down the line?
They say they don’t have our numbers they can’t get hold of us, but I am getting a call I can even show you my phone last week I got a call from the stores colleagues have been phoning me from the stores. It’s very strange that how the lady at the switchboard got my number and she is on Facebook with me as she is my friend and she is calling me from the company is phone. But it is very strange that they cannot get hold of me.
How does this affect your morale as retrenched workers?
Some of the guys we were retrenched with are losing hope, there is one guy who called me yesterday and said “I’ve been getting letters of demand I need to move now because there’s nothing happening and I am being kicked out of my house because the union is not helping us with anything” so what I am saying is if we are waiting for these guys from inside to assist us those guys actually don’t care.
What is your union doing to help you?
As from the leadership of the union they need to call people and say let’s do this action because there was a time that we were sitting for more than 6 months without having any meeting and you are getting frustrated and then when you ask why is there no meeting “no we don’t want to call a meeting for petty things” while you are starving outside and is difficult.
What are your colleagues who were not fired doing to assist or working in solidarity with you?
Shop-stewards from inside stores – they need to actually help us fight this thing because you know you are outside you are helpless you cannot do anything.
We cannot wait for the newly elected structure to come and help us while the old guys failed to help us as it was supposed to have started with them , but you know what that old ones are cowards – we are having cowards in the stores.
How can they (former colleagues) assist you?
Firstly they need to get us a vacancy list from inside. They are the people who know exactly what is happening, about how many vacancies must be filled and how many positions are open. They need to bring that list forward to us and let us see what is happening. Maybe if for instance we can go to our other stores because as I was saying Eastgate has got a lot of vacancies.
Why are they refusing to take you back?
The company is spiteful and they don’t want us back because we were driving the union in the stores you understand? As they have quoted – they are saying we are “vrot” potatoes we will come and make other people rotten and we were so strong that’s why I think they have got a fear and they don’t want us in the stores because of that.
What is your way forward?
I think we need to drive this thing our self because to wait for people inside to come and help us. They are earning a living every month and on the 25th they are getting paid and we are not getting anything you understand. If we are not taking this thing upon ourselves then we are going to lose out we gonna sit down for another year.
Walmart Slave Shop Fire in Bangladesh Kills 122 Workers
Listen to a radio programme of Walmart & Disney’s Refusal to take Responsibility for Workers’ Compensation in Bangladesh fire where the death toll soared to more than 121 and where labour organizers are tortured and disappear – with Kalpona Akter, from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity by Building Bridges radio show on Pacifica Radio and produced by Mimi Rosenberg & Ken Nash.
Kalpona Akter, a garment worker since she was 12 years old, faces myriad criminal charges for organizing for labour rights in the garment industry and while she mourns brother labour activists who have been tortured, and others who have been assassinated she is unrelenting in her organizing against the conditions that led to the deaths & critical injuries of hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers recently. Akter discusses the safety risks, poverty wages, abusive treatment, unsafe conditions faced by workers who sew the clothes we wear, along with the government’s campaign of terror against labor rights activists. Akter places squarely before us the question of why Bangladeshi workers have to die sewing cheap clothing while the brands Walmart, H&M, Gap and Disney make millions and avoid responsibility and compensating
the victims of the terrifying blaze for the conditions that resulted in the fiery deaths.
To Download or listen to this 28:13 minute radio program go to:
Walmart refuses to compensate Tazreen, Bangladesh fire victims BUT Three European retailers agree to contribute to compensation plan
A meeting was held on 15 April in Geneva to discuss a 5.7 million USD compensation plan for the victims of the Tazreen Fashions fire in Bangladesh, which killed 112 workers and injured about 120 in November 2012. The meeting was hosted by IndustriALL Global Union and attended by major European retailers, a leading Bangladesh trade unionist, the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Worker Rights Consortium.
In an outrageous display of indifference to the suffering of Bangladeshi families, major US corporations Walmart, Sears/Kmart and Disney, refused to pay any compensation to the victims and failed to attend the meeting. Walmart was apparently the largest buyer from the Tazreen factory. The companies which failed to enforce their own worker safety standards have claimed to be deeply saddened by the deaths.
Major European retailers C&A (Netherlands), KiK (Germany) and El Corte Inglés (Spain) attended the meeting and agreed to make substantial contributions to the compensation plan for the families of the dead and for the injured. The Italian clothing brand Piazza Italia did not attend but has agreed to participate and contribute towards the package.
“We have agreed on confirming the concrete amounts that each of these brands will contribute by the end of this month” says IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina. “The families and the injured have already waited far too long”.
Other companies that were sourcing from Tazreen and failed to attend include Hong Kong based trader Li & Fung, Teddy Smith (France), Edinborough Woolen Mills (UK), Dickies (US) and Karl Rieker (Germany). Li & Fung has however agreed to paying compensation.
The compensation plan, developed by IndustriALL and its affiliates in Bangladesh and supported by international labour rights groups, is based on the compensation formula used in other recent fires. These include the December 2010 fire at That’s It Sportswear, a factory producing for Gap and other US brands, and the fire this January at Smart Export Garments, which was producing clothes for Inditex and others. The details of the plan will be worked out in a subsequent meeting to be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Says Ineke Zeldenrust from Clean Clothes Campaign: “We once again call upon Walmart and the other major companies sourcing from Tazreen to aid the families of the dead and the injured workers. Their refusal to commit indicates a shocking lack of concern for the rights and well-being of the workers who make their clothes and who were injured or killed in the process”.
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