Unions fret over Wal-Mart's bid

If global giant Wal-Mart succeeded in its bid to buy a share of Massmart, it would mean job losses for the retail and manufacturing sector, trade union Saccawu said on Thursday.

“Few people ... comprehend the immensity of the implications of this deal if it goes through unopposed and without stringent conditions to protect our sector, related sectors, the local economy in general, the country and continent’s developmental agenda,” SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (Saccawu) deputy general secretary Mduduzi Mbongwe told reporters in Johannesburg.

He was speaking at the launch of an Anti-Wal-Mart Coalition, made up of Saccawu, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and some of its affiliates, the international UNI Global Union and others.

The campaign’s goal was to ensure that Wal-Mart did not destroy the local economy or have a negative effect on workers’ rights.

‘No to Walmartisation’
Against the backdrop of a poster reading: “Say yes to centralised bargaining. No to Walmartisation”, Mbongwe said that if Wal-Mart were a country, it would be among the top 20 richest nations.

“It was so powerful it could dictate prices to manufacturers, suppliers and distributors, and had in many cases driven down prices, and in return the wages in its own and other sectors, he said.

“Wal-Mart’s procurement policies of compelling farmers, manufacturers, distributors and suppliers to push their prices down has seen the collapse of many small and sometimes even big businesses.”

Saccawu spokesperson Mike Abrahams added that Wal-Mart might create jobs within the Massmart group, but because it would procure goods from China and drive down prices, it would “attack” other sectors of the economy.

“In Mexico it is the biggest private employer ...
but the country has seen an enormous decline in other sectors of the economy.”

Massmart on Thursday said in a statement it had been in contact with union president Amos Mothapo and suggested that talks with the union were “primarily dependent upon the finalisation of the due diligence process and confirmation of Walmart’s intentions”.

“It is clear that engagement to discuss the specifics of Saccawu’s concerns is premature in the absence of a final offer from Wal-Mart.”

Wal-Mart filed an application about its Massmart bid with the Competition Commission on Wednesday, said Saccawu.

The coalition’s campaign would, therefore, include “taking the fight” with submissions to the commission. It would also involve educating Saccawu members—which made up about 70% of employees in the Massmart group—about Wal-Mart’s business model and its “anti-union philosophy elaborated in their blueprint document ... titled ‘How to remain union free’ “.

‘Saccawu is a fighting union’
The coalition would lobby government, seek support from international unions and could make a section 77 application through the National Economic Development and Labour Council on the possible socioeconomic consequences of the deal.

Section 77 of the Labour Relations Act gives workers the right to protest over socioeconomic interests.

“Saccawu is a fighting union ... we are not afraid to go on the streets,” said union president Mothapo, saying they might also embark on a strike.

Mbongwe said they had already experienced a “hardening” of retailers’ attitudes in general ahead of Walmart’s anticipated entry into South Africa.

“This is the beginning of the Walmartisation of the sector.”

The union had observed a shift in its relationship with major retailers since rumours first surfaced that Wal-Mart was interested in South Africa, which would give it a stepping stone into the rest of Africa.

Massmart operated in 14 African countries.

“Suddenly disputes that would have been settled expediently and amicably in the past now reached deadlocks… ,” said Mbongwe, citing the ongoing strike at Pick n Pay.

Saccawu had handed a list of 14 demands to Massmart CEO Grant Pattison on October 7. Massmart had not responded as the deal with Wal-Mart was not finalised yet, said Mothapo.

Wal-Mart initially made a non-binding offer to buy Massmart for R30-billion.

“Wal-Mart has repeatedly indicated that it will honour pre-existing union relationships and abide by South African labour law, an approach that is consistent with its practice in other countries within which it has operations,” Massmart said.

Last week Wal-Mart said it could consider acquiring 55% of Massmart, instead of the 100% it initially proposed. This would keep Massmart listed on the JSE.

The revised offer followed consultations with “major Massmart shareholders and key South African stakeholders”, Massmart said in a statement last Thursday.

Massmart’s brands includes Game, Dion Wired, Makro, Builders Warehouse, Builders Express, Builders Trade Depot, CBW, Jumbo Cash and Carry and the Shield buying group. - Sapa

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