As the relationship between Shoprite and its workers continue to deteriorate and a demonstration by labour activists brought at its door yesterday, the permanent secretary in the ministry of labour came out to tell journalists at a press briefing that government will boycott buying from the supermarket.
Although relief for the workers who are now being sued of millions of dollars over a strike of three years ago seem to be nowhere in sight, government is handling the case with caution and finding a way to strike a balance between the company and its workforce.
This has left more questions than answers from disgruntled sections of society which are beginning to question whether government is playing the toothless bulldog given that Shoprite’s misdemeanors come a long way and each time government has protested with no significant breakthrough.
Speaking to journalists yesterday at the labour ministry head office, P.S Bro-Matthew Shingwadja said, “We are going to tell those that are buying for Food Banks to stop. I can not support a boycott here and I go to buy my cool-drink from Shoprite, NO! If you find a minister buying in Shoprite ask him what are you doing here.”
Government has been engaging and encouraging Shoprite management and trade unions to meet and resolve their differences amicably through established structures.
Shingwadja said Shoprite was advised to speed up internal disciplinary processes against its 93 employees that it is currently suing as well as to halt the processes but to no avail.
He said affected employees also turned to the ministry to have the supermarket drop the charges only to be told that it had no legal authority to give such instructions.
“Instead, they were advised to urge their representatives to impress upon the speedy finalisation of the disciplinary hearing,” said the PS.
Two meetings were held this year alone between March and April, one with Tucna and another with NAFAU in order to find a breakthrough into the stand-off to no avail.
Shoprite has gone to the extent of playing cat and mouse with government, refusing to meet up and iron out issues at the back of an increasingly frustrated labour force.
Inspite of the increasing insubordination, Shingwadja however said government can’t just wake up and kick out the company but has to act within the confines of the rule of law which means having to go to court.
“We have to balance, should I go to court on this or should we still encourage our social partners. In our system we work with employers and workers. They are the ones in the driving seat. Ours is to regulate the legal framework,” he said.
Meanwhile soon after the press conference ended, unionists and activists were chanting anti-Shoprite slogans along Independence Avenue in the CBD calling for it to be shut down.
When The Villager entered the supermarket, it was bristling with customers although reluctant workers were in support of the demo outside.
One shopper who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “I heard about the demo on radio yesterday. It is really a bad thing that they are not paying workers well.”
It is unclear whether calls for the boycott will land well with th rest of the citizens.