Kameeta asked to act on Shoprite saga

The Economic and Social Justice Trust has written to the Minister of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, Zephania Kameeta to rally behind the group and impose a purchase boycott against Shoprite-Checkers group of companies.

In the letter, Chairperson of the Economic and Social Justice Trust Hebert Jauch wrote that the Shoprite-Checks group of companies had been characterised by poor and exploitative labour practices in Namibia as it has been in other countries in Southern Africa.

“For two years, over 100 workers at Shoprite in Windhoek have been facing disciplinary charges for taking part in a strike in 2015.  Shoprite has already dismissed 176 workers in Rundu and Gobabis, and the company’s continued violations of workers’ rights must be brought to an end,” Jauch wrote.

The strike in 2014/15 was a result of the company’s unfair and discriminatory labour practices.

“Shoprite’s unfair labour practices were also shown recently in Oshakati where the Labour Court found that two employees had been dismissed unfairly and thus ordered reinstatement.  It seems that Shoprite is even reluctant to follow the court ruling and this shows once again the arrogance and impunity with which this company operates”, he adds.

The letter says that Shoprite has ignored the laws and has undermined the government and trade unions.

Jauch wrote that some workers’ rights had been violated and this became evident in disciplinary proceedings.

Those violations the Economic and Justice Trust says are;

1. Shoprite employs what they call Permanent Part-Timers or PPTs. These are workers who are permanently on part-time. Their contracts provide for a maximum of 45 working hours per week, which is equivalent to the standard working hours for permanent employees.

2. The employment of PPTs was the subject of an investigation by the Ministry of Labour, which in its report dated 13 August 2015 made some findings and recommendations. The survey found that a practice of “segregated employment” exists at Shoprite/Checkers retailers and that workers on part-time contracts receive far lower pay than permanent workers in the same job category.  The contracts of these two groups of workers are not comparable, and the Ministry recommended that the employment contracts be reviewed to remove any provision, definition, references or qualifying criterion that renders the employment conditions of one employment category less favourable than the other.  The Ministry stated that the employment contracts of the two employment categories should be harmonised and be brought squarely into the ambit of the Labour Act.  Furthermore, Shoprite was told that it needs to provide sound justifications for employing workers on fixed-term contracts. Otherwise, they need to be permanently employed as stipulated in the Labour Amendment Act of 2012. It is not clear whether Shoprite has accepted and acted on any of those recommendations.

3. 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 hearing being provided.  The chaotic and arbitrary nature of Shoprite’s disciplining methods reached the stage where one of the branches manages felt compelled to send out an email to branch managers, reminding them that “short-timing” (deducting the time an employee was late from his pay), cannot be done without disciplinary action.

4. Shoprite workers earn meagre wages and the increases given locked them into being part of the “working poor”.  Workers in the salary ranges of N$1530 to N$1710 received an increase of N$ 190 – 206. Thus the average salary increase was just around N$ 200 per month.  The PPTs received even less.  They are paid on a weekly basis and were received N$ 345 – 462 per week.  Their increases translated in an additional N$ 27 – 37. Thus many Shoprite workers continue to receive wages of less than N$ 2000 per month and are part of the “working poor”.

5. Decisions concerning the workers’ wages and employment conditions are taken in South Africa.  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.

6. 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. With no grievance procedure in place, the employees have no way to address these grievances.

Jauch said that based on those experiences, the Ministry should not make any purchases from Shoprite-Checkers group until the charges against the workers have been dropped. He has also asked that Kameeta raise the issue at Cabinet level and push for a resolution to be passed to cease purchases from Shoprite group of companies.

Shoprite lawyer Uno Katjipuka said the disciplinary proceedings are still ongoing and there is hope that we may finalise the process before the end of this year.

"I cannot say how the outcome of the hearing will be. It is difficult to say whether the result will be positive but there is a chance that the outcome will be positive. 

"In general, looking at the working conditions of workers in the retail sector I think that their demands are not unreasonable and the working conditions of workers in the retail industry are deplorable, and this needs to be looked into.

Activist Job Amupanda said Shoprite should just be shut down in Namibia.

"They are not the only ones that can do business. We will be able to find better retailers.

"The Shoprite workers issue is just unfortunate. I mean these people make millions of dollars daily, but in the end, the one that is working hard for the money is paid less. How does that even work?

"Imagine getting paid N$2000 dollars’ salary and going to work in locations like Rocky Crest that means that you are only working for food as and to pay transport to work.  And if these workers demand that they should be given allowances for food since they are selling food they will not even consider it," he said.

According to Amupanda, Namibian is an independent country, and must never again allow the workers to be exploited.

"This has to end now, and the labour law needs to set up better minimum wages for workers. I do not know how this person makes such huge chunk of money and have been paying Namibians these low salaries it is either they rectify it or they get out of our country," Amupanda said.

A Shoprite worker who gave her name as Maria said she was just working because she does not want to be home.

If I get a chance for a better job, I will just leave. In fact, any other job that pays well. Here we are not paid well, and if you do just a little something wrong, then you are given a warning and then fired just like that. Who wants a job that does not pay well and has no benefits?"

"I work for my kid’s school bread and transport only this is not a job but must do to survive thing," she said.

Another worker, Zeldri, said she prayed that they get a salary increase.

"I am not happy working here. Every day I am wakening up to go to work is like I am walking towards a burning fire. It does not help working at Shoprite.

"I do not have a choice, and if I had an opportunity, I would have gone to work wherever a long time ago. I am working here at Shoprite for about four years and have not even been promoted at all." 

The Villager was unable to reach Kameeta was out of office. Ministry of Poverty spokesperson Lot Ndamanomhata told The Villager that his office was not aware of the letter as they were still out in other regions.