Namibia: Unions Gang Up On Shoprite

TWO of Namibia's labour federations have joined the fight to force the Shoprite Group of Companies to resolve the ongoing labour dispute with its workers which has now entered its fifth week.

Job Muniaro, the secretary general of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) yesterday called on all trade unions countrywide to embark on a campaign to boycott all Shoprite stores.

His counterpart, Paulus Hango, the president of the Trade Union Congress of Namibia(Tucna) said he was greatly disturbed by the fact that the company has outrightly opted to disrespect the ruling of the High Court, which prohibited Shoprite from using scab workers in place of the striking workers.

The two federations are also encouraging Namibians to stop purchasing or having any transactions with the retail group.

NUNW and Tucna's calls for a nationwide boycott come after labour minister Utoni Nujoma urged members of the public to boycott the company's retail stores and its subsidiaries.

However, despite the minister's call for a boycott yesterday, crowds of people were seen shopping at the Shoprite store in Independence Avenue in Windhoek yesterday.

Other Shoprite subsidiaries such as Checkers, OK Foods and Usave also had substantial numbers of people visiting them yesterday.

Some of the customers found shopping at OK Foods in Windhoek yesterday claimed that they were not aware that the store was part of the group and should also be boycotted.

Shoprite employees, represented by the Namibian Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau), embarked on a nationwide strike on 23 December demanding better salaries.

The Shoprite Group owns retail stores such as Shoprite Checkers, Shoprite Stores, OK Foods, Hungry Lion and Usave.

The company has stuck to its initial proposal of giving workers between 5% and 10% wage increments without other benefits such as housing and transport allowances.

Full-time workers at Shoprite earn between N$1 200 and N$2 500 per month.

Minister Nujoma this week said these wages were especially low compared to the average wage of all Namibian workers, which is slightly above N$6 000.

"Their salaries consign them to a life of deprivation for themselves and their families," Nujoma said.

Muniaro condemned Shoprite's conduct at a media briefing yesterday, saying the company has "for far too long mistreated our workers wickedly, purposely and grossly violated the laws of Namibia with intolerable liberty".

The NUNW is the mother body to which the Namibia Food and Alliance Workers Union is affiliated. Muniaro claimed that workers at all Shoprite shops are humiliated abused, maltreated; they are completely exploited and even told to work overtime and use this money for transport to come to work.

"Workers are suffering at the hands of Shoprite owners and management and are threatened with job losses," he said.

It was clear, Muniaro said, that Shoprite is now trying to escape guilt of the maltreatment of workers through excuses hidden behind Covid-19.

He urged the company to "immediately" release the seasonal workers it recruited to fill the positions of the striking workers.

Meanwhile, Hango criticised the manner in which the police handled the strike, claiming that the "police was being used by Shoprite management as a shield to protect them and encourage them to employ scab-labour".

"This detracts from ever reaching a lasting solution to this problem," he said.

The Student Union of Namibia (SUN) also encouraged all students and parents not to shop at any Shoprite establishments.

SUN's spokesperson, Tyson Hihanguapo, said that the union had noted the injustice that Shoprite acted upon the employees.

"Companies such as Shoprite thrive on the continued exploitation of black people through cheap labour," said Hihanguapo.

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