Maputo — Workers at the Mozambican branches of the South African supermarket chain Shoprite went on strike on Wednesday for an indefinite period, in pursuit of demands for a wage rise of between 15 and 18 per cent.
The secretary of the Shoprite trade union committee and spokesperson for the strikers, Rafael Nunes, told reporters that the wage question has been pending for over a year. The last time the company increased wages, by about 20 per cent, was in October 2011. Nunes said there was a promise of a further rise in December of that year, which never happened.
The strikers are demanding a wage rise of 18 per cent for workers who earn between 2,500 meticais (84 US dollars) and 15,000 meticais a month, and 15 per cent for those who earn more. There are very few of the latter – according to Nunes, wages in Shoprite vary from 2,500 to 15,600 meticais a month, and the workers claim there is no clear criterion for the allocation of the higher wages. Nunes alleged that some of them are relatives of the managers.
Attempts to hear the employer’s side of the dispute failed, because the general manager of the Maputo Shoprite branch, Feliciano Boane, refused to speak to reporters. He simply delivered, via a security guard, a piece of paper containing the e-mail address and phone number of a ShopRite official in South Africa, Sarita Van Wyk. He said she was the person who could answer all queries.
Nunes said that since Monday night the company has been training security staff to work on the tills. He thought this was quite impractical, and did not see how people trained in just a couple of days could possible keep the shops running.
“We are not on strike just for the fun of it”, said Nunes. “We are acting in defence of our rights which are being violated. For a long time the company management has shown no will to solve our problems”.
He said that whenever it came to workers’ grievances, the company said it had no money, but there was always money to expand or rehabilitate shops, and to buy cars.
The strike could be highly damaging to Shoprite, since it is taking place at the busiest time of year. Unless the strike is settled very soon, much of the fresh produce imported for the festive season will become unsellable, as it goes past its expiry date.
The strike will be of great benefit to Shoprite’s competitors, such as rival South African chains Pick’n’Pay and Spar, as well as Mozambican-owned stores, who can expect to pick up much of Shoprite’s business.