Namibian government supports calls to boycott Shoprite amid wage stand-off


WINDHOEK (Reuters) - The Namibian government said on Wednesday it supports calls to boycott Shoprite Holdings in an effort to force Africa’s largest grocery chain to amicably resolve a four-week strike over pay.

The Namibian Food and Allied Workers Union (NAFU) has been pleading with consumers not to buy from Shoprite and its subsidiaries until the labour dispute is resolved.

“The ministry supports this position,” Labour Minister Utoni Nujoma said in a statement.

More than 2,000 Shoprite workers led by NAFU have been on strike since Dec. 23 demanding better salaries and working conditions.

They want a 600 Namibian-dollar ($40.34) salary increase, a 450 Namibian-dollar housing allowance, a 500 Namibian-dollar transport allowance and permanent employment for temporary workers who have been with the retailer for over a year.

Full-time workers at Shoprite earn between 2,000 Namibian dollars and 2,500 Namibian dollars per month compared with a sector average of 4,169 Namibian dollars, according to a 2018 Labour Force Survey report.

Court documents seen by Reuters show that most striking employees have temporary contracts, some for extended periods of up to more than 10 years and earning between 300 Namibian dollars and 400 Namibian dollars per week.

According to NAFU, Shoprite is refusing to concede to the workers’ demands and has stuck to its initial proposal of a 5% to 10% wage increment without benefits.

Nujoma said the salaries offered are low and “consign them to a life of deprivation for themselves and their families.”

He condemned Shoprite’s history of labour practices and criticised the retailer for its handling of the ongoing strike.

The minister said it is now clear that the retail chain is negotiating “in bad faith” after it defied a recent court ruling that interdicts Shoprite from hiring seasonal staff or “fixed term” employees while full-time workers are on strike.

Shoprite is resolving the matter through the appropriate channels and is “doing everything in its power to protect jobs,” a Shoprite Group spokesperson said in an emailed response.

($1 = 14.8730 Namibian dollars)