By Khulekani Magubane and Penelope Mashego for News24
The South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu) has confirmed it plans to kick off with a national strike at the Massmart group on Friday, which could impact some 229 stores under the retail and warehousing giant.
On Tuesday, the group said it had received no formal notice of a strike. A senior executive, however, said he was aware that the union’s leadership was “cajoling” members into strike action, alleging that some members appeared to have been threatened into participating.
Saccawu denies allegations of intimidation.
The union first hinted at the possibility of a strike last week, aiming to time its industrial action alongside Black Friday – set to take place on the last Friday of November.
Massmart senior vice president of group corporate affairs Brian Leroni told Fin24 that Massmart had not yet received any formal notification of strike action from the union as required by the Labour Relations Act.
“We are, however, aware that Saccawu leadership is cajoling its members into taking strike action during the current trading period.
“It would appear that Saccawu’s approach has, in [some] cases, involved threatening reluctant members to participate in a strike at a time when they would typically maximise sales commission-based earnings due to higher footfall and sales volumes in our stores,” said Leroni.
Leroni said the rationale for the threatened strike action was “not immediately clear”, but the company was aware that Saccawu officials referenced wages, working conditions and restructuring in media interviews.
“Specifically, Saccawu leadership recently advised its members employed by Game not to accept alternative positions that the company had identified following the implementation of a Section 189 process that was completed at Game in June this year,” Leroni said.
He said Makro, Game and Builders would release new Black Friday deals each week during the whole month of November and that the company did not anticipate that the potential strike action would impact meaningfully on the promotion.
Saccawu said in a statement on Tuesday that its strike would go ahead on Friday and was expected to affect Makro, Game, Makro Fruitspot, Builders Warehouse, Builders Express, Builders Trade Depot, Builders Superstores, Rhino Cash and Carry, Jumbo Cash and Carry and Cambridge.
The statement added that Saccawu secured certificates of non-resolution of disputes from the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to embark on a protected national strike at stores under the Massmart Group after section 150 facilitation sessions where the company showed “little interest” in resolving the labour disputes.
The union was waiting for the CCMA to finalise a certificate for Builders Warehouse, it said.
“On 19 November 2021, Saccawu will commence an indefinite national strike at the Massmart Group of companies which include Mass Warehouse, Massbuild and Mass Cash representing 229 stores nationally,” the statement said.
Industrial action has loomed for some time at the retail giant. Earlier this year, Massmart was dogged with threats of strike action over its plans to retrench staff.
On Tuesday, Saccawu said there was a dispute regarding wages and working conditions at Massbuild, and that it demanded a R500 across-the-board increase. “Other areas of dispute involve unfair labour practice wherein the company is placing workers on unpaid seven-day isolation whenever they have been embarking on lunchtime pickets that were a build-up to this national strike,” the statement said.
The union is also unhappy about the retrenchment of some 380 workers at Massmart, as well as the working conditions of the remaining workers, including a reduction in working hours, wages and benefits.
Speaking to Fin24 on Tuesday afternoon, Saccawu head of communications and research Sithembele Tshwete denied Massmart’s claims of intimidation and cajoling attributed to Saccawu members, or members of any other union recognised by Massmart.
“That’s just propaganda. We are not about that. We were on a strike for three days and they said the same thing. We are not about violence. Everything is within the law. We don’t force people, we are going to persuade people,” said Tshwete.
Tshwete told Fin24 that Saccawu had approached the Labour Appeals Court on Monday to appeal the ruling of the Labour Court and won. He said the union will argue for the reinstatement of the workers who were dismissed.
“It is a protected strike. We have a certificate on non-resolution, but we are sending the last memorandum of notice. There is Massmart, Makro and Builders. It is only Builders where we have not given notification. It is the CCMA that has delayed us in that regard,” Tshwete said.
Saccawu said its strike programme also involved mobilising a national consumer boycott of Massmart Stores, the handover of a memorandum of demands at a number of Massmart stores and secondary strikes at other retailers by other organised labour structures.