Makro faces indefinite strike as union demands 12% wage hike
The South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers' Union (Saccawu) has vowed to pursue an indefinite nationwide strike if Makro fails to improve a current wage increase offer that is below inflation.
Sithembile Tshwete, head of research at Saccawu, told News24 on Thursday that the union would assess the situation after its limited-duration strike, which started this week and is set to end on Saturday.
Should Makro fail to budge, "we will be applying again for a strike notice and this time it will be indefinite", said Tshwete.
The majority union at the wholesaler, which is owned by Walmart-owned Massmart, said it began a limited-duration strike at 22 stores on Wednesday after wage negotiations deadlocked. Talks have been dragging on since June.
The demands of the union, which says it represents about 85% of staff at Makro, include a 12% wage increase, as well as a hike in sales commissions from 10% to 20%. Tshwete said Saccawu was willing to compromise and would accept an increase as close to the inflation rate of 7% as possible, or just above it.
He said Massmart was "stubbornly" sticking to its 4.5% wage offer even though the average worker’s pay of "R5 000 gets wiped out" by rising transport and food costs and other basic necessities.
He said all the union wanted was for a wage increase that gave some breathing room to workers who "feel the pinch of poverty and of hunger".
"We are sitting with real issues with people who are working who are poverty-stricken. We are not dealing with economic theory here."
Massmart said, however, there had been limited support for the strike, with no effect on its operations, adding that the union’s members who did not support the strike had been resigning their membership.
"We have noted diminished staff support of the strike action [Thursday morning]. Stores are busy and continue to trade normally," it told News24.
Massmart had said in a statement on Wednesday evening that Makro had been advised on Monday that the union intended embarking on a "three-day strike at our stores".
"It should be noted that this decision has been taken unilaterally by the union in the absence of their conducting strike ballots across the Makro store base. This approach is consistent with our impression that the union has been negotiating in bad faith," the company said.
Massmart said that as of Monday, six stores had conducted strike ballots, with three of them voting against strike action.
"For example, at one particular store, just 7% of staff voted to strike."
Massmart said the union demands of 12% wage increases and a hike in sales commission from 10% to 20% were "intuitively unrealistic".
It added that Makro had implemented strike contingency plans, which included "temporary employees who have been trained in our store processes".
Massmart also said in the Wednesday statement that there had been a "sharp increase in Makro employees resigning their union membership".
"We do not anticipate disruption to normal store trading activity as the result of the strike action," said Massmart.
But Tshwete on Thursday disputed Massmart’s assertion that there was waning support for the strike, saying: "Let's deal with facts. I can send you photos. Right around the country there are picket lines in all stores of Makro. Workers have come out in their numbers."
As for Massmart’s commentary on strike balloting, he said that for the company to "say we have not conducted balloting is just not a fact".
"We dispute that."
He said workers would also be marching on Friday in a show of support for the strike.
As for Massmart saying union members were resigning, Tshwete said the company was in effect forcing people to resign from the union, including "249 Saccawu members who are at management level and in our bargaining unit".
He said the company was telling staff they would not receive December bonuses and pay if they pursued strike action.
"It’s just tricks from the company to wipe away the union from Makro and even in the whole of Massmart. Massmart is known for union bashing tactics."