Over 100 workers at Shoprite in Windhoek have been facing disciplinary charges and possible dismissal for 3 years for taking part in a strike which provoked by Shoprite’s illegal conduct. The workers are bravely fighting to keep their jobs and they want to be treated with respect and justice at work.
In July 2014 Shoprite unlawfully withheld a salary increase from those of its workers who belonged to a trade union that was seeking recognition as their collective bargaining representative. After the company ignored the workers’ petitions, they commenced a strike to resist this illegal discrimination. After one day, Shoprite backed down and paid the workers their increase.
In July 2015 Shoprite committed another illegality, this time by conducting sham wage negotiations with workers’ representatives. The workers tried to raise their bargaining demands through their chosen representatives, but were ignored again. They referred a dispute to the Labour Commissioner over Shoprite’s refusal to bargain as required by law. Acting with complete contempt for the workers’ demands, Shoprite unilaterally imposed small wage increases. The workers withheld their labour in protest on 28 July 2015.
Instead of bargaining with the workers and their representatives on their demands for better wages, a transport allowance and medical aid so that the workers can live with dignity, Shoprite took disciplinary action against them. Instead of considering the workers’ modest demands for better working conditions, Shoprite has poured literally millions of dollars into a protracted disciplinary hearing for close to three years, seeking to dismiss them. This is unjust and totally unacceptable.
Shoprite could easily afford to pay its workers better salaries. In 2016, Shoprite boasted that it made a turnover of just over R 130 billion, while the average worker at Shoprite earns only about N$ 2 500 per month. With no transport allowance, the workers spend between N$ 480 and N$ 960 on transport every month. They also have to pay monthly rent of N$ 1 000 or more, even for a shack in someone else’s backyard. This is before they can even think of food, water and gas for cooking (most of them do not have electricity) and other basic necessities.
Also in 2016, Whitey Basson, then Shoprite’s CEO, received a bonus of R 50 million on top of his basic annual salary of R 49.7 million. This translates into more than N$ 8 million per month! Shoprite workers created this wealth, but they are denied the opportunity to share in it. It would take a worker at Shoprite about 267 years to earn what CEO Basson made in a month!!!.
With the disciplinary hearings almost at an end, Shoprite on 23 July 2018 launched a court case against 93 of the workers suing them for damages of N$ 4.5 million. The company wants N$288,000 for lost sales on the day of the strike (28 July 2015), N$ 190,000 for the replacement workers during the strike, N$ 616,000 for the venue hired for the disciplinary hearings and N$ 3,442 million for legal costs for the court application to stop the strike and the subsequent disciplinary hearings. This is outrageous and represents an attempt by Shoprite to add insult to injury. The company wants to intimidate not only to its own workers but Namibian workers in general. The message is that when workers go on strike they will suffer the consequences. This is a blatant attack on workers’ rights.
We need to support the Shoprite workers in their struggle to achieve dignity and justice. They should not be threatened with possible dismissal for protesting against the company’s illegal conduct and then be sued for the costs incurred by the company. The fight of the Shoprite workers for justice, respect and dignity is our fight.
Although the company has announced that it is now willing to drop the lawsuit, we also demand that Shoprite must drop the unfair disciplinary charges against its workers.
A call to boycott Shoprite has been circulated widely and it is high time that Namibians show the company that its conduct will not be tolerated.