Cape Town – Unions representing retail workers have lambasted several leading retailers for placing profits before employees’ health as the number of staff in South African stores being infected with the coronavirus continues to rise.
South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union provincial secretary Crosby Booi said it was “outraged and deeply concerned” about how many of its members “at Shoprite Checkers and some Pick n Pay stores who are getting infected almost every day while on duty”.
During a briefing in the city on Wednesday, Booi alleged that several employers have prioritised profit margins rather than “following the prescripts of the Covid-19 measurements and regulations gazetted by government”.
“We have since in Western Cape seen the highest level of disregard of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown measurements.
“We have recorded large-scale unilateralism taking place in workplaces where in certain circumstances, some managements conceal information on the outbreak of infected workers, thus putting the lives of others in unhealthy, hazardous and risk situations,” he said.
Cosatu provincial chairperson Motlatsi Tsubane alleged that several workers were infected in supermarkets in Mfuleni, Khayelitsha and Delft.
“We also noted the untimely death of one worker in Delft as a result of this pandemic,” Tsubane said.
He also alleged that more than 200 workers at Shoprite and Checkers had been infected with Covid-19, and that it was saddened to report the death of two members.
Tsubane said the union wants employers to provide personal protective equipment to all workers, as well as stop redeploying its employees across stores during the lockdown.
John Bradshaw, executive of marketing for Pick n Pay, said the health and safety of customers and staff remained a priority.
“All stores have safety measures in place and there is clear signage throughout stores to remind customers and staff of these,” he added.
Bradshaw said physical distancing measures in its stores included demarcated floor markers for queuing and checking out, shopping with a trolley and limiting the number of customers.
Shoprite, in its response, said the well-being and health of its employees, customers and communities remained of paramount importance, and “the group would continue to do everything it could to protect them”.
“Since the start of the outbreak the group has acted proactively to safeguard its employees and screening has assisted the group to identify possible cases through early detection,” the response from Shoprite stated.
It said various measures had been implemented in the workplace, including daily temperature testing of employees, dispatching mobile clinics for referrals, providing plastic face shields to employees, and maintaining stringent hygiene and sanitising protocols.
Representatives in the clothing, textile, footwear and leather sector recently held a virtual meeting with Trade, Industry, and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel, to review the readiness of shops and factories for the Level 4 lockdown restrictions.
“The public, private and civil society sectors need to work together to ensure our society’s safety, particularly in a phase of reopening more economic sectors,” Patel said.
Anthony Thunström, chief executive of The Foschini Group and chair of the National Clothing Retail Federation, welcomed the move to reopen clothing retail stores.
By Sisonke Mlamla