The management of a prominent supermarket chain store in the centre of Polokwane was facing the threat of a boycott earlier this week if not speedily resolving issues during proposed deliberations with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in Limpopo on behalf of a contingent of disgruntled workers and seemingly ex-employees.
It comes in the wake of the business reportedly temporarily closing its doors on Monday afternoon until yesterday morning (Wednesday) upon an EFF delegation descending on the shop to raise issues of alleged unfair labour practices and the use of derogatory slurs against employees.
On Tuesday EFF Capricorn Regional Secretary Ronnie Malema informed Polokwane Observer that they were waiting on a call from the store management to meet to discuss matters after an attempt on Monday to engage management of the business to properly resolve issues. Malema said he had accompanied EFF Deputy Provincial Secretary George Raphela to the shop on Monday after having received a letter from employees raising grievances about the manager allegedly calling staff members baboons and complaining about him using the word “bull….”. It was established that they were joined by an estimated 60 fighters. The employees whom they assisted were not only EFF members but also belonged to trade unions affiliated to other political parties, it was learnt.
According to Raphela employees were equally discontent about alleged labour-related issues, such as retrenchments, that seemingly didn’t get properly communicated to staff.
He said the shop had been closed around 16:30 on Monday on instruction of the management after someone identified as the manager, who was absent at the time, was informed of their presence but indicated that he was not going to show up. Raphela said customers were cooperating when informed that operations were being stopped until such a time that the manager appeared. By yesterday morning he indicated that they hadn’t had a meeting as yet. Raphela promised mobilisation towards a boycott of the store if the manager didn’t meet with them.
In a letter of complaint addressed to the store management and of which a copy would have been sent to the Department of Labour, Raphela wrote that they had noted with concern that the majority of the shop’s employees were faced with unfair labour practices imposed by the manager. He continued to list the alllegtions as, among others, calling employees names such as mampara (translated into stupid), and his son allegedly insulting them by referring to staff members as baboons and using the term “bull….”.
In the letter Raphela continued to state alleged violation of the South African Constitution by the manager’s son whom he accused of comparing black people to baboons and the manager of undermining the country’s labour act.
André Swanepoel, who is in the process of purchasing the business, said he had received a letter from the EFF yesterday morning and would respond to it in writing. He explained that he had meetings with the workers and their union, whom they opted to continue representing them, on Tuesday and yesterday and that the union representative had confirmed that the issues mentioned in the letter by the EFF had never been raised prior to the delegation arriving at the store on Monday afternoon. According to him the concerns raised in the meeting with the workers differed from that referenced in the EFF letter and entailed concerns about shift timetables and working hours. He said the matters mentioned in the EFF letter would be investigated in conjunction with the union.
To a question about potential profit losses since Monday when the business was closed, he said it could have amounted to up to
R400 000 in sales of which the majority would have been perishable goods.
By mid-morning yesterday Swanepoel confirmed that matters had normalised and by then they would have opened the doors again within an hour.
At the time of going to print the union representative could not be reached and a voice message was left on his cell phone.
Story: Yolande Nel
Photo: Herbert Rachuene