Johannesburg - Most of the 593 Woolworths Holdings [JSE:WHL]
employees who were on outdated contracts have opted to stay with the company, its chief operating officer said on Thursday.
"Woolworths has been engaged in discussions with a small group of 593 employees (less than 3% of all our employees) and proposed a variety of options to address our requirements to trade long hours," COO Sam Ngumeni said in a statement.
"The intention of the discussions and proposals was to provide voluntary options to enable the business to move away from employment with fixed, inflexible hours which have essentially become redundant, as they no longer meet the requirements of the business."
Last week, the retailer denied planning to retrench 600 workers. It said it was merely seeking to transfer about 3% of its staff on old contracts to a new system requiring them to work weekends.
If staff did not want to work under the new contract, they could leave with a voluntary severance payment, or take early retirement if they qualified.
The SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers' Union (Saccawu) said this was to the detriment of workers' rights.
Spokesman Thabo Mahlangu said those affected were mainly from the lower echelons of the work force.
The union predicted that management would try to "coerce" employees to accept the new contracts by meeting them individually, in an attempt to exclude the union from the process.
Ngumeni said the outdated contracts were created at a time when Woolworths stores were open until only 13:00 on Saturdays and were closed on Sundays and public holidays.
These working hours were no longer feasible in the modern retail environment.
Based on employees' requests, after discussions, Woolworths improved its various options, he said.
About 80% of the affected employees had accepted one of the voluntary options proposed, while 1% had not.
Woolworths would now look at phasing out this category of employment and would have to contemplate making these positions redundant, said Ngumeni.
"We still prefer all our employees to choose one of the options we proposed, but we have had to make a difficult decision and consider making certain positions redundant to meet our operational requirements. This is a last resort," said Ngumeni.
Saccawu said Woolworths was planning to retrench 177 workers, despite its earlier claims to the contrary.
"Hardly a week after vehement denials by Woolworths' spokespersons to the media that they do not intend retrenching workers, we are now informed of the planned retrenchments of about 177 workers," said Mahlangu.
Earlier this week, Solidarity started a campaign to get the company to retract job advertisements it believed discriminated against whites.
Deputy general secretary Dirk Hermann said on Wednesday: "In the media, Woolworths argues that they are only complying with affirmative action laws. However, the truth is that the Employment Equity Act does not allow such exclusions."
Solidarity's campaign: "Woolworse: Making a differentiation", would be driven by social media and include protest messages to Woolworths CEO Ian Moir
Woolworths' operations officer Sam Ngumeni denied the company was using racist recruitment processes.
"In order to meet our transformation commitments we use various mechanisms, such as designation, to deliver on our employment equity plan, which is in line with the Employment Equity Act," he said.
*Follow Fin24 on Twitter
+ and Pinterest