Operations at all five Shoprite outlets in the country were paralysed yesterday when more than 300 employees went on strike to pressure the South African supermarket chain to increase their salaries. The protesting workers were also up in arms over salary discrepancies between locals and foreigners working for the same company. Early morning shoppers were caught unawares by the strike that affected branches in Dar es Salaam and Arusha.
In Dar es Salaam, business came to a standstill at the Milimani City, Kamata, Slipway and Mayfair Plaza outlets, leaving customers stranded. A notice pasted on the doors by the management indicated that the stores would remain closed until further notice. The same scenario was witnessed in Arusha where workers also downed their tools in a wage dispute with their employer. They were demanding that their salaries be raised from Sh170,000 to at least Sh250,000 and an improvement of working conditions. Dar es Salaam residents expressed disappointment over the closure, and called for a quick solution so that services could resume as soon as possible. A shopper, Mr Abdallah Sadiq, said, "I have driven all the way to this place, and I can't understand why such a big and reputable firm can cause such an inconvenience to its customers."
There was, however, indication from the workers' representatives last evening that they would resume duties this morning, pending a tripartite meeting on Tuesday through the Commission for Mediation and Arbitration at the Labour Court. At the Kamata branch, workers in their white and black uniforms sat in the car parking lot talking as they waved placards. It was the second time in less than a year that Shoprite workers had gone on strike over pay. The assistant secretary-general in charge of the commercial sector in the Tanzania Union of Industrial and Commercial Workers (TUICO), Mr Peles Jonathan, told The Citizen that they had held discussions with the workers and management to try to reach a compromise. He said, however, that the final deal would wait for Tuesday's meeting with top Shoprite officials from South Africa. No one was available in their Dar es Salaam office to talk to reporters.
Mr Jonathan noted that among the issues in contention were salary imbalances between foreign and local workers, medical benefits, leave and other related problems. Tuico members and workers' representatives held a closed-door meeting at the union's headquarters in Ilala. The meeting ended at 4pm. Mr Jonathan addressed dozens of Shoprite workers who had camped at the company's headquarters at the Kamata branch. A worker at the Mlimani City outlet said that they had been holding talks with the management for four months and sought the intervention of the Labour Court, but had not been able to reach a consensus. In Arusha, business came to a halt when about 60 employees of the chain's only outlet in the municipality went on strike from 7.30am. Reporters found the workers outside the shop premises on Dodoma Road chanting the "Solidarity Forever" song and displaying placards on their demands.
Those interviewed said they would not resume work until their demands for better salaries and other allowances were met. The branch's Tuico chairman, Mr Ahmad Salum, confirmed that they were in a labour dispute with their employer. "We are postponing work with a call to our bosses to consider our longstanding demands for a salary increment," he told The Citizen. Other workers said they did not fear being sacked. The strike, they said, would deal a major blow to the company because the outlet usually attracted the most customers on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The Shoprite outlet serves a wide clientele including tourists heading to the national parks, expatriates and people in the high-income bracket. Tour company officials were also disappointed that their clients heading to the national parks could not make any purchases there. "We are heading for Tarangire and Manyara. We passed at Shoprite as we are used to buy our small packages here. Now my guests are disappointed," lamented Mr Andrew Makalika of the Jackport Tours and Safaris Tanzania Limited.
Operators of some tourist hotels were also dismayed by the strike as they are solely dependent on the supermarket for their daily purchases. Mr Tumaini Kisanga, a driver of a truck loaded with Shoprite goods from Dar es Salaam, was contemplating returning to the city after finding the supermarket closed and nobody to receive the consignment. Shoprite supermarkets sell mainly foodstuffs and a wide range of beverages including beer, wine, soft and hard drinks. The firm has 600 stores in Africa, 400 of them in South Africa alone, with 58,000 employees. The largest and busiest store is at Manda Hill in Lusaka Zambia. There are a total of 17 Shoprite outlets in Zambia alone, four of them in the capital.
*Reported by Orton Kiishweko, Vicent Mnyanyika in Dar es Salaam and John Lewanga in Arusha
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