Court fines Shoprite for breaching strike order

The retail giant Shoprite Namibia must pay a fine of N$50 000 and give N$100 000 to a bursary fund for its employees because it failed to adhere to a court order issued during a strike of some of its staff in early 2021.

In an order given by judge Esi Schimming-Chase in the Windhoek High Court on Tuesday, the company was directed to pay the fine and provide N$100 000 to a bursary fund for the benefit of its employees who want to enrol in work-related educational courses.

The judge also directed that Shoprite Namibia and its management should treat employees who took part in the strike at the start of 2021 and employees who did not participate in the strike equally when they apply for bursary funding.

Three directors of the company during the time it disobeyed a Labour Court order issued in January 2021 were cautioned in Schimming-Chase’s order.

Some Shoprite Namibia employees were engaged in a strike that started in December 2020 when, in January 2021, the Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau), which was representing the striking staff members, obtained an order against the retailer in the Labour Court.

In terms of that order, Shoprite Namibia was not allowed to hire so-called seasonal staff or fixed-term employees to do the work of striking employees and was not permitted to let any of its other employees perform the work of employees involved in the strike.

After the initial order had been issued, Nafau returned to the court with an application to have Shoprite Namibia and three of its directors held in contempt of court.

In that application, the trade union informed the court that the company continued to use seasonal employees and other staff members to do the work of striking employees for five days after the initial order had been granted, until an appeal against the first order was filed by the retailer.

The strike lasted for about five weeks and came to an end after the company and the employees reached an agreement on pay increases.

Shoprite Namibia and the three directors were held in contempt of court in a ruling given by a Labour Court judge in February 2021. At the same time, the judge postponed the sentencing of the company and the directors for the contempt.

After that ruling, Shoprite Namibia and the directors appealed to the Supreme Court and also asked that court to review the finding that they had been in contempt of court.

In a judgement delivered in April 2022, the Supreme Court dismissed the review application, but upheld the appeal, finding that the initial order that was breached by Shoprite Namibia should not have been granted, as the company could not be stopped from allowing other employees to perform the work usually done by staff members who were on strike.

Lawyer Uno Katjipuka-Sibolile represented Nafau and Shoprite employees involved in the previous litigation and the contempt proceedings.

Shoprite Namibia and the three directors were represented by senior counsel Jean Marais, assisted by Deon Obbes, instructed by Mark Kutzner.

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