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Industry

Why this year has been a mixed bag for retailers

Bonface Kavuvi
Bonface Kavuvi, Secretary-General, Kenya Union of Commercial, Food & Allied Workers. PHOTO | ANNIE NJANA 

The grocery stores space in Kenya has had a bittersweet period, with smaller retailers growing exponentially and curtains falling on some of the greatest giants that ever ventured into this space.

While customers have had shopping options along the way, the employees of these retail outlets have not been so lucky as they have been let go gradually as stores close.

The Business Daily had a conversation with Bonface Kavuvi the Secretary General of the Kenya Union of Commercial Food and Allied Workers (KUCFAW), a union that also represents workers in the supermarkets space to get a glimpse of the year:

WHAT IS THE UNION’S HIGHLIGHT FOR THIS YEAR?

Things have not been so rosy since retail membership has gone down due to the collapse of Choppies which had given us some hope after the numbers were affected by the downfall of Uchumi and Nakumatt.

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HOW BIG WAS THE IMPACT OF THE COLLAPSE OF THESE SUPERMARKETS?

The effect is huge as we lost about 1,500 members from Uchumi and 3,200 members from Nakumatt. This brings to about 4,700. If we add Choppies membership this exceeds 5,000.

The effects of a supermarket’s closure runs deeper than just what is portrayed, it affects so many people because ordinarily it is said that one working person supports several dependents. Its effects are huge on the economy too.

WHAT IS THE STATUS OF PAYMENT OF TERMINAL DUES FOR EMPLOYEES OF COLLAPSED SUPERMARKETS?

No terminal dues have been paid by both companies as a result of Company Voluntary Arrangement for Uchumi and introduction of Company Administration for Nakumatt which are both under the Insolvency Act prohibiting litigation action.

HAS IT ALL BEEN GLOOM THIS YEAR?

Not entirely, Tusker Mattresses Limited Collective Bargaining Agreement was concluded and the bonus case won and workers are being paid following the ruling. Shoprite also signed a recognition agreement and we are in the process of preparing proposals.

Chandarana CBA was also concluded and signed. This a win for the Union as it means that the members have better employment terms and benefits.

THERE HAS BEEN A RAPID EXPANSION OF CHAIN RETAILERS SUCH AS NAIVAS AND CHANDARANA, AND ALSO INCREASED INVESTMENT AND NETWORK BY FOREIGN OWNED ENTITIES SUCH AS SHOPRITE. HAS THIS NOT INCREASED MEMBERSHIP?

Yes there has been notable gains but we cannot underplay the loss of livelihood by some of our members due to collapse of some supermarkets. However, we can also not fail to recognise that we have had about 1,000 new members this year. We recruited 453 from Shoprite, 149 from Game Stores after they opened two new stores, 258 from Carrefour as a result of ongoing recruitment and 221 members from Chandarana’s two new outlets.

WHAT ARE THE UNION’S PLAN FOR 2020?

We plan to intensify our recruitment activities at Naivas, Carrefour and Quickmart within the small retail players like Mulleys and Kassmart Supermarkets to compensate for the lost membership from Uchumi, Nakumatta and Choppies supermarkets.

We also plan to fight vigorously outsourced companies in the supermarkets which have taken over employment- the supermarkets outsource labour from them.

Companies such as Retail Management Solutions (RMS) for Quickmart, Artemis at Tuskys, Achievol at Naivas, Specific Talent at Tumaini do all jobs apart from loss control which is done by companies such as Hipora Business Solutions.

The pay by outsourced companies is less and we are not in a position to lobby on the behalf of supermarket employees- since these outsourced employees are not directly employed by the supermarkets who have CBA’s with the union.

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