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Shoprite backtracks on Zambian sackings after government threat

Shoprite has backtracked on a decision to fire 3,000 striking workers in Zambia after the government threatened to revoke its licence, Labour and Social Security Minister Fackson Shamenda said on Thursday.

"We told them we would revoke their trading licence if they went ahead with the dismissals," Mr Shamenda said. "I have now given them 10 days in which to negotiate and resolve the problem. All the outlets are working normally now and I am on my way to buy bread from Shoprite."

A spokeswoman for Shoprite declined to immediately comment.

Shoprite announced the sackings on Wednesday after workers went on strike this week for higher wages, the labour minister said. The government wanted the company to pay wages "far above" the minimum wage, he said.

Shoprite spokeswoman Sarita van Wyk said on Wednesday that the striking workers had ignored Shoprite’s second ultimatum to return to work on Tuesday, following an initial ultimatum on Monday.

As such, the company "terminated their employment" late on Tuesday afternoon with an option for the workers to reapply from Wednesday, with no guarantee of being taken back, she said.

While the striking workers had been urged by the two deputy ministers of labour and social security and their union president to return to work, they had initially "flatly refused", and by the time they had agreed to return to work, "the terminations had taken effect".

Shoprite, Africa’s largest retailer, has 30 stores in Zambia, according to its website: 21 Shoprite stores in Zambia and nine Hungry Lion fast-food outlets. The country has the highest number of Shoprite stores outside South Africa, the report shows.


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