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Global Union Coalition says no free pass for Walmart as South African Competition Tribunal approves its buy of Massmart

May 31, 2011 Updated: August 24, 2020

A global trade union coalition today said the decision from the South African Competition Tribunal to approve the merger of global retail giant Walmart with local retailer Massmart is not a free pass for the world’s largest company.

The Tribunal should and could have gone much further in laying down merger conditions, said the coalition formed by UNI Global Union, the South Africa Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) of North America to contest the merger.

“When you are dealing with a heavyweight, you need more than flyweight conditions,” said UNI General Secretary Philip Jennings. “”Even though we did win concessions that the companies never would have made on their own. This is no free pass for Walmart. This is not the time for a Walmart lap of honour.”

SACCAWU, which represents thousands of workers at Massmart, has also expressed its strong disappointment with the decision.

“We reiterate our position to strongly challenge this decision,”” said SACCAWU General Secretary Bones Skulu.””We are opposed to the acquisition of Massmart by Walmart without compelling and tangible conditions.”

In its decision, the Tribunal said the retailer must give preference as positions become available to re-hiring 503 workers who lost their jobs in Massmart last year; cannot cut staff for two years; it must honour existing labour agreements with SACCAWU for the next three years; and after the merger, it will set up a fund of 100 million rand ($US 14 million, or about 0.003% of annual global sales) for a three-year program to develop local suppliers, with trade unions sitting on the committee.

“With the economic scale of Walmart’s global business, the Tribunal should have been more ambitious in its decision. One hundred million rand is pocket money for this company,” Jennings said.

UNI believes that the decision from the Tribunal should be a wake-up call to Walmart that it needs to actively engage with unions in South Africa and around the world.

“It’s time for Bentonville to globally engage with UNI and our unions,” Jennings said. “With its new corporate buyout shop in London to invade and conquer new markets, governments and people are on alert that Walmart could be on its way to their country. Walmart should learn its lesson from South Africa. The more the Tribunal heard from Walmart, the more apprehensive they became about the merger. In the end the company had no choice but change its position.”

“In North America we have witnessed first-hand Walmart’s approach to labour relations”, said Michael Bride, UFCW’s Deputy Organizing Director for Global Strategies.  “We believe that this process in South Africa has effectively demonstrated to Walmart that it cannot hide from its labour record anywhere in the world, and for this reason we would echo UNI’s call that the company should sit down and negotiate a global settlement with unions from across its business.”