The stage is set for what might be the mother of all negotiations today between the workers and the management of high profile shopping chain – Shoprite in Nigeria. Things fell apart and the centre could no longer hold between workers and the management on March 2nd, 2021. All branches of the South African franchise in Nigeria were shut.
Shopping freaks who went to pick choice items in the mall that day were greeted with angry posters firmly pasted on doors leading into the massive shop in the case of Apo Branch in Abuja where all the entrances were sealed
Some of the posters are asking about “Where is our own percentage?” or “10 Years is not 10 Months” and another is making references to slavery.
The management has now approached the Ministry of Labour which will be acting as the umpire between the management and the National Union of Shops and Distributive Employee standing for the collective interests of the workers. And the negotiation would be activated March 4th, 2021 in Abuja.
Every side is keeping sealed lips but Intervention is understanding that it promises to be a tough negotiation ahead. While the out-going management of the shop is said to be a set of toughies in matters of business calculations, the union is also said to have a set of honest labour leaders. There are no independent assessments of these profiling but it was categorically learnt that a typical South African company in Nigeria could be very stubborn customer on such matters. That is, stubborn in terms of business models about which they would want to be rigid.
At stake is what is being called ‘unfinished labour matters’ that the workers want their departing management to resolve before the new investors in the retail outlet takes over. The workers who are the underdog in the power relations are insisting on certain entitlements before the transfer. Intervention learnt that to work in a place such as Shoprite is to give one’s all because the retail business is all about discipline – no late coming, no pilfering, no gifts, no ‘laziness’, no room for mistakes, etc. This is the origin of the reference to ‘slavery’ in one of the fighting posters.
Nigeria is generally said to have the weakest labour law system in West Africa. In China, for instance, workers could accept dormitory type accommodation where they can be woken up with a cup of coffee and drafted to the plant. But that is allowed because China knows where it is going and the Communist Party looks the other way, allowing foreign companies to do so on purpose. That is not the case of Nigeria which is rather experiencing de-industrialisation. Today’s negotiation may, therefore, break new grounds. It might not be much but significant.
Regular patrons of Shoprite, especially the Apo Branch in Abuja would say that it required no more than a few minutes inside the shop to know that things fell apart long time ago. According to some of them, apart from the bakery section, it had become a nightmare to shop in the branch. It could take up to 32 minutes of waiting to be attended to in the section where varieties of salad are sold. The counters witnessed long queues as only few of them would be functional at any particular time, suggesting either a high degree of turnover of staff or over-use of very few staff.
Sometimes within the past one year, there was a statement about the franchise packing out of Nigeria. Subsequently, the statement was re-narrated to deny Shoprite leaving Nigeria. It was thought that whatever was simmering might have been sorted out internally.