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Workers lament ‘unfair treatment’



WINDHOEK – Hochland Park Spar is again in the spotlight, after several of its employees alleged they are victims of racism and bad treatment by management.

Brigitte Zaire, a cashier at the Tops Bottle Store section of the store, claimed that she was unfairly suspended on January 13, for allegedly allowing another employee to work on her till.

The unauthorised employee would have put at risk the company’s money while compromising its standards, it is alleged.

“I went to lunch on December 27 or 28 and left my colleague at the till. A merchandiser on the floor decided to help my colleague, probably because the shop was full, but I did not tell him to use my till,” she explained.

She said when her employer, Jan Burger, returned to work on January 3, he was told about the incident and gave the merchandiser a warning.

“He did not speak to me about the incident,” she said.

According to Zaire, about 15 employees have been dismissed since Burger took over the shop from Theo Borstlap in December last year.

The single mother of four is distraught at the realization that she may lose her monthly income of N$1 600, having worked at the shop since June 16 last year.

Two other employees at the shop who spoke on condition of anonymity complained that they had worked for four years at Spar, however their future is bleak as their contracts end in February.

“We are told not to buy food from the shop and we cannot warm our food in the microwave if we bring food for lunch. We drink from the basin in the toilet because the kitchen is off limits to us. Only white employees have access to the kitchen,” workers claimed.

Burger started locking the kitchen door from January 3.

“When we are sick, we must first come to work and go to the hospital only after his approval,” they further claimed and requested anonymity lest there are reprisals.
Approached for comment, Burger explained that these are control measures as it is confusing to know who is on lunch and who is not.

“They can wear civilian clothing if they want to buy in the shop or use the microwave,” he said.

He added that he had to lock the kitchen, as there was no camera to guard against stealing.

“They have never complained to me, they should have just asked me to build them a new basin where they can drink from instead of drinking from the basin in the toilet,” he said.

Burger stated that he complies with the labour law and must be informed via telephone if an employee is sick.

“I never asked them to come in when they were sick,” he said.

Burger said he took over the shop after five years of its underperformance and is attempting to turn around business.

“Some staff could not be reappointed as the shop was overstaffed — however, we kept as many of the staff as financially possible,” he explained, adding that out of the 90 employees, he was able to retain about 75 percent to 80 percent.

According to Burger, the employees were informed that they would be employed on a three-month contract under new management after which they would be appointed on a full-time basis based on their performance.

“No one was fired, they were not re-instated,” he added.
On the case of Zaire, he said she frequently asked the merchandiser to help her on her till and was short on several occasions.

A disciplinary hearing against Zaire is expected to take place today.

Zaire and her colleagues have since approached Secretary-General of the National Union of Namibia Workers (NUNW), Evalistus Kaaronda, for assistance. Kaaronda confirmed that he was aware of the situation but declined to comment, explaining that he would brief the press on the Spar situation, as well as other labour issues.

In a separate incident last year, there was a near brawl involving Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture, Kazenambo Kazenambo, and Hochland Park Spar’s manager after security searched his shopping bag but not those of white customers.

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