Tribunal hearing into Walmart deal postponed

Last-minute wrangling at the Competition Tribunal hearing into the Walmart-Massmart merger on Tuesday has led to the postponement of the hearing.

The government, represented by the department of economic development, initially asked for the proceedings to be postponed until May 9. The competition tribunal refused this postponement, stating that additional dates would be made available for the department to lead its economic witnesses.

However, the unions then argued that the new timetable proposed by the tribunal for the hearing would severely prejudice them as they would not be able to cross-examine Walmart’s economic witnesses.

The unions threatened to interdict the proceedings if they were not halted.

After a series of adjournments the tribunal finally ruled to grant the postponement until May 9.

Anti-Walmart coalition
Meanwhile, South Africa’s main retail union said it will picket the offices of the country’s Competition Tribunal, demanding it block Walmart’s plan to buy local chain Massmart or attach tough conditions, Reuters reported earlier on Tuesday.

The South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (Saccawu)—which includes workers in the wholesale and retail sectors—is strongly opposed to the deal.

“We will tell the Competition Tribunal that we believe it is not in the best interest of South Africa for Walmart to be allowed into our country,” Bones Skulu, Saccawu general secretary, said in a statement.

“We will also outline the conditions that must apply in the event that the tribunal believes differently and or otherwise rules that the company may enter,” Skulu said.

Saccawu has formed an anti-Walmart coalition with other labour and activist groups.

‘Severe tactics’
Christy Hoffman of UNI Global Union, the worldwide umbrella union representing 20-million workers, and also part of the coalition, urged the tribunal to take into account the experience of Walmart workers around the world, the South African Press Association reported on Tuesday.

“In many of the countries where Walmart workers have union representation, the company cuts back on the rights of workers at every opportunity.

“In countries where Walmart was not forced to accept a union because it acquired a company without an organised workforce [such as the United States and Canada], Walmart employs severe tactics to silence workers and keep them from having a voice on the job,” she said.

The Competition Commission has recommended that the transaction go through with no conditions. In January, shareholders voted to accept Walmart’s bid to acquire 51% of Massmart for R148 a share in a deal worth about R17-billion.

Shareholders overwhelmingly voted in favour of the deal in January, which should help Massmart speed up expansion in sub-Saharan Africa, a region with vast growth potential.

The final hurdle is the hearing by the Competition Tribunal.

Lloyd Gedye

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