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On Friday, over 400 workers affiliated to the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu) marched to the Makro store in Silverlakes, Pretoria to hand over a memorandum of demands.

The workers of the Walmart-Massmart-owned retailer are demanding:

an across-the-board wage increase of R900 or 12%, whichever is greater; a minimum wage of R8,000 per month and an improved commission on sales from 10% to 20% for sales persons; the reinstatement of dismissed workers; a uniform allowance of R100, and a moratorium on retrenchments.

The striking workers painted Pretoria’s Solomon Mahlangu Drive with red and yellow, chanting struggle slogans and bringing the traffic to a standstill as they proceeded to Makro. A Gauteng Saccawu leader, who has been dismissed and asked not to be named in fear of victimisation, said, “It’s been about eleven months now, we have been battling in negotiations with Makro and they are refusing to listen to us. We know the company has been making a lot in profits. At first we were willing to settle for a 7.5% increase or R630 but they refused. We have exhausted all avenues. Now they are de-unionising the stores, they are trying to demoralise us, but we will not back down.”

The leader alleged that Makro was bullying workers to not unionise and is targeting the most vocal employees. The union’s response, he said, is to strengthen their call on other union federations to join their action, as they are planning to call for a consumer boycott of all Walmart-owned stores. The unions supporting the strike include Saftu, Samwu, Denosa, Cosatu Young Workers and Nehawu.

One of the workers, who spoke to Elitsha during the strike, Ephraim Chauke from Hammanskraal said, Makro was abusing them as employees. He has worked for the company for five years and has not received an increase for the past three years. “The working environment at Makro does not favour us at all as workers. The management is forcing changes on us, which benefit them. I am earning less than R8,000 a month, I am a father of two kids and the breadwinner for my family. I support my mother and other extended family. The prices of food and public transport are going up every day. I am suffocating, that is why I joined the strike from today,” said Chauke.

Saccawu Gauteng deputy chairperson, December Malatjie addressed the workers at the entrance of Makro before the memorandum was handed over. “We are going to fight for what is right, we are prepared to die if needs be. We need a living salary. In 2010, we indicated that Walmart will be a problem in South Africa but our government did not listen to us. Now, we are here,” said Malatjie.

The union has given Makro 48 hours to respond to their demands.

The memorandum was received by Makro Silverlakes general manager, Lisa Curty. “I am committing that I will pass on the memorandum to senior management and we will study the workers’ demands and provide a response,” she said.

400 Makro workers dismissed

At the end of last month, Makro dismissed over 400 workers according to Saccawu, following a disciplinary hearing that was conducted by the store. The workers were alleged to have engaged in unlawful industrial action in November last year. One of the dismissed workers, who joined the strike today said she feels she was unfairly dismissed and hopes Saccawu can fight for them to be re-instated.

“It has been very tough to make ends meet without a salary. I am the breadwinner at home, and I cannot do anything. It is very painful. I was not even part of the pickets last year. I think the store just targeted everyone who is affiliated to the union. Walmart came to South Africa to destroy people’s lives,” the worker told Elitsha.

“Walmart came to South Africa to destroy people’s lives”

Saccawu spokesperson, Sithembele Tshwete said, “The strike can escalate to a point where international labour federations could write to all the companies that are doing business with Walmart to stop. We will expose them for who they really are. They have been seriously pushing an agenda of bashing unions in the workplace and this strategy will not work in SA,” said Tshwete.

The union is planning to continue with protest action next week. “We will intensify the strike, as we will be marching to the US embassy and also to the department of trade and industry. When Walmart was planning to buy Massmart we were there at the Competition Commission and expressed our concern over this company. They have indeed failed to respect labour laws and workers’ rights,” said Tshwete.