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Boycott Woolworths, bring in Sainsbury’s

4 September 2012

Last week I posted a tweet on Twitter suggesting that people should boycott Woolworths because of their labour practices. Woolworths staff face retrenchments | Labour | Mail & Guardian:

About 600 Woolworths workers face retrenchment or early retirement if they choose to not sign the new flexible-hour contracts.

Human resource officers from Woolworths visited stores in KwaZulu-Natal last week to inform fixed-shift staff that in order to accommodate the company’s 365-days-a-year trading policy staff would be switched to flexible shifts, the Star reported on Monday.

I commented on Facebook: “Remember the Market, to keep it holy! Seven days shalt thou labour, for I am the Market thy god, which led thee into harsh bondage.”

And Macrina Walker commented: “Indeed. It will be interesting to see if the sort of Christians who made a big noise about Halaal hot cross buns will also kick up a fuss about this.”

Well, I don’t know if the kind of Christians who made a fuss about Halaal hot cross buns have made a fuss about this, but there has been a bit of a fuss about it, from a rather surprising quarter.

In Britain, the Sunday trading laws were relaxed for the period of the Olympic Games, in the hope, no doubt, that it would boost profits. Apparently it failed to do so. Though most Brits seemed to feel good about the Olympic Games, feeling good didn’t seem to make them want to rush out and buy something at any hour of the day or night.

The British government, however, is now thinking of making the relaxed Sunday trading laws permanent. And opposition to that proposal has come from a British equivalent of Woolworths: BBC News – Sainsbury’s chief attacks plans to reform Sunday trading:

The head of Sainsbury’s has attacked government plans to make temporarily extended Sunday trading hours permanent.

Chief executive Justin King said: “Maintaining Sunday’s special status has great merit.”

This is not neccessarily purely out of concern for the workers, but there are also sound business reasons for it.

In a separate, joint letter also to the Sunday Telegraph, the general secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw), the Bishop of Oxford and the chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores said they had been “alarmed” to hear that ministers were considering making the change permanent.

“With margins being squeezed and sales flatlining, the last thing the retail sector needs is increased overheads for little or no return…

The Keep Sunday Special campaign said: “David Cameron came into government promising to make this country the ‘most family friendly in Europe’ but over one million families have at least one parent working on both weekend days, meaning they have little time to spend with their children” (Hat-tip to Opinionated Vicar: Double Standards).

So perhaps the time has come to boycott Woolworths, and encourage Sainsbury’s to open up their shops in South Africa, since they seem to have better labour practices. And perhaps Cosatu should take a closer look at what firms like Woolworths are doing.

Modern business practice seems to be to regard workers as sub-human. They are not seen as people, but merely as “human resources” — a dehumanising term that denotes dehumanising labour practices.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 September 2012 2:54 am

    I don’t believe that Christians give a darn about Sunday Trading. Years ago I was a union official in North Queensland. There was Sunday Trading then only in the Brisbane CBD. Trading hours were the province of the Industrial Commission. When Sunday trading was proposed – pushed particularly by Woolworths who wanted 24 hour trading as well – for the rest of Queensland, the full bench of the Queensland Industrial Commission travelled the state to seek views. Now this was not a particularly formal affair. Anyone could walk in off the street and put their views to the Commission. To the best of my knowledge, the only Christian voice – well, specifically and notably Christian voice – was from a Catholic priest from a small parish outside Cairns. Certainly none from those who call themselves bible-believing Christians.

    There seem to be a lot of Christians who claim that they keep the Sabbath but just not on Sunday – and it doesn’t matter what day.

    I recall a conversation with a former 7th Day Adventist woman a few years ago. She described quite fondly Sabbaths in Warburton – a beautiful part of the world outside Melbourne where Adventists had a hospital and quite a significant community. There would be church in the morning, gathering in someone’s home for lunch, lovely walks and conversation in the afternoon. It was then that it hit me. We are not meant to celebrate the Sabbath in isolation on any old day of the week. It is something which can only be fully realised in community. And not just participating in formal ritual and/or gatherings but in sharing that slowness and peacefulness in the company of others.

    Certainly, if we don’t get the idea of sabbath right, we are not going to get the idea of Jubilee – the sabbath of sabbaths right. Getting Jubilee right is, in my view, an imperative for Christians concerned about our interaction with landscapes, plants, agriculture, other species. I commend to readers Maria Harris’s beautiful little book “Proclaim Jubilee! – a spirituality for the 21st Century”.

    On the matter of Woolworths, I would like to know more about the South African Woolworths. I know that our Woolworths here in Australia is specifically Australian and not connected to the American company. However, Woolworths here in Australia has always kept up a close relationship with Walmart who has some notably bad workplace practices not only in its home country of the USA but in China as well. A former Woolworths CEO who sits on the Board of the Woolworths company, Australian LIquor Group, sits on the Board of WalMart. This man is Roger Corbett. I keep a watching brief on Roger believing him to be, arguably, the most influential man in Australia because of his various board positions. You can see what I have written about him if you go to this link. —> http://goo.gl/TlOaL

    • 5 September 2012 3:48 pm

      I too don’t know if there is any link between SA and Australian Woolworths, but from the sound of it they have the same lousy labour practices.

  2. Proudly South African permalink
    6 September 2012 9:47 pm

    This is the job advert started the uproar:
    http://woolworths.pnet.co.za/index.php?s=advert_view&g=3910&x=1626647&i=1696&pop=1
    It says only “African Black” candidates should apply.

    The South African WW is modeled on the Australian version though they are not legally related. Check the wikipedia page.

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