Andrew Kathindi

Labour Commissioner Henri Kassen said his office’s hands are tied when it comes to enforcing a Labour Court ruling which unions and Shoprite group employees have accused the retail giant of contravening, as it is outside his jurisdiction.

According to the court order delivered on 8 January, Shoprite is not permitted to employ seasonal workers or let other employees do the work of those that are on strike. However, Shoprite has hired seasonal employees, according to a spokesperson from the employee’s group.

“The Labour Commissioner’s office is not an enforcer for compliance of the law or the court decisions. We have a mandate to deal with a dispute in terms of conciliation arbitration and once it’s done, it’s elevated the enforcement level. That is another stage of the dispute. Our office becomes what we call functus officio, we have completed our mandate,” Kassen told Windhoek Observer.

The Labour Commissioner said that Shoprite’s alleged non-compliance with the court order was a criminal matter and therefore outside his or the Labour Ministry’s mandate.

“Like in this case, you can check the court order; it says that the union is allowed by the court order to be on the premises to be able to monitor whether other employees are not used, to ensure compliance.”

“Once you do not comply with a court order, that is considered a criminal offence. The Union has the right to go to the police and make a criminal case. If a court order is not complied with that may mean that you could be charged with contempt of court.”

The Labour Commissioner’s office’s involvement in the dispute between Namibia Food and Allied-workers Union (NAFAU) and the Shoprite Group has been to designate a conciliator to meet the parties, and to manage the dispute.

The parties have met at the Labour Commissioner’s office several times since the strike began, including on Monday 11 January, where they tried to resolve the matter, however, they could not reach an agreement.

Days after that meeting, Shoprite circulated a form in which it has been allegedly forcing its employees to sign and terminate their participation in the strike or risk losing their jobs.

The matter between Shoprite and its disgruntled employees who have been on strike due to low wages and poor working conditions has dragged on in varying degrees for several years.

Kassen said the issue was delayed for years because Shoprite workers did not have a recognized union representing them but could offer no hint as when it was likely to be resolved.

President of the Namibian Employers Association (NEA) Henry Bruwer also washed his hands of the matter stating that they don’t get involved in the operations of their members.

“We only provide advice to our members. When a dispute rises it is between the individual employer and the employees to approach the Labour Commission. We only get involved if it’s an industry-wide issue,” Bruwer said.

Quizzed on what advice he had given Shoprite group, the association leader declined to comment specifically.

This comes as the Labour Minister, Utoni Nujoma has been meeting with representatives of the Shoprite group and NAFAU leaders to try and resolve the matter.

Earlier this week, the Minister was reported to have supported a nation-wide boycott of the retail giant.