Much has been said about the stubborn position adopted by grocery chain Shoprite over the ongoing dispute which has seen about 2 000 workers embarking on strike action demanding better pay. This seemingly stinking attitude has been frowned upon by many, including trade unions, political parties and government through the labour ministry.
In fact, labour minister Utoni Nujoma, also, did not pull punches when he released a scathing statement in which he, rightly so, questioned pay discrepancies, while supporting calls to boycott stores owned by Shoprite Namibia, including Checkers and Usave.
As the largest food retail chain on the African continent it is a big shame that full-time workers employed locally by Shoprite have to contend with monthly salaries ranging from N$2 000 to N$3 000 – a far cry from what the average worker in the retail sector earns.
The workers have been demanding a salary increment of N$600, a housing allowance of N$450 and a transport allowance of N$500.
Full-time workers of Shoprite earn on average between N$1 200 and N$1 600 on a five-day work basis.
It is ironic that the very same Shoprite has had a history of poor labour relations in the country, much to the chagrin of workers and unionists.
For far too long, Shoprite has gotten away with murder and their unbecoming behaviour is underlined by the sheer arrogance demonstrated over the years. Mind you, it was only in recent years that Shoprite recognised the Namibian Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau) as the trade union representing the interest of workers.
Many will also recall that Shoprite sued and fired over 100 workers in 2015. Their sin was to demand better pay.
Shoprite is not in some financial crisis of sorts.
In 2020 alone the Shoprite Holding Company made a massive operating profit of N$7.15 billion, while the net profit stood at N$3.4 billion in addition to earned interest in the amount of $498 million.
The frightening fact here is that the Shoprite group handsomely rewards its top executives, while paying ordinary workers a pittance.
Whitey Basson, the former chief executive of the Shoprite group, was in 2016 paid R49.7 million in basic pay and a special bonus performance of R50 million.
Imagine nearly N$100 million paid to one man, while workers who also play a key role in securing the much-needed revenue and profit endure starvation wages on a monthly basis. Indeed, the time has come for Shoprite to be called to order.
It should not be business as usual when employers such as Shoprite continue to exploit labour with impunity and thus pushing workers further into exploitative conditions.
The striking workers need our support, and we should stand in solidarity with all other working masses by piling pressure on employers who simply disregard labour laws in our country and who despite posting huge earnings, continue to subject our fellow citizens to poverty wages. Enough is enough.