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Self-service raises job-loss fears

Sep 25 2016 06:29
Steve Kretzman

The introduction of six self-service checkout counters at a Pick n Pay branch in Observatory, Cape Town, has raised fears of a future nationwide roll-out of the kiosks and thousands of cashiers potentially becoming redundant.

Pick n Pay is adamant that no jobs will be lost, but staff interviewed at the Observatory store say their employers’ assurances have not allayed their fears.

“We are worried,” said a staff member who was helping shoppers negotiate the self-service counters.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the trade union federation did not trust Pick n Pay’s promises.

“In fact, we are suspicious,” said Pamla.

“We believe it wants to get rid of its workers. We don’t think it’s helpful in an economy that has collapsed – technically, we are in a recession – to be introducing mechanisms that threaten workers.”

He questioned the retailer’s commitment to the social contract, particularly when “500 000” jobs had been lost during the first half of the year.

Cosatu was planning to meet with their affiliate in the retail sector, the SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (Saccawu) during the course of the week before pursuing the matter “publicly and privately with Pick n Pay”.

Saccawu could not be reached for comment.

In a statement attributed to strategy and corporate affairs group executive David North, emailed through their public relations company, Pick n Pay stated that staff were needed to monitor the self-service checkouts and there was “no impact on employment”.

North stated the company was increasing rather than cutting jobs, and was “committed to creating 5 000 new jobs each year”.

A source at the store did say the branch had “just employed nine more cashiers” despite introducing the self-service checkouts.

A cashier can expect to earn R3 000 upwards a month, but Pick n Pay neglected to answer the question of how many cashiers it employed.

It also ignored questions on how much the self-service checkout units cost, what company manufactured them and where they were based.

Questions as to why Observatory was chosen as the trial venue and whether the self-service checkouts were expected to save costs for the company or shoppers were also ignored.

North did say that Pick n Pay was “always looking at new ways to help our customers by making their shopping trip easier and more convenient”, and was testing the self-service checkouts to see if they saved customers time at the till.

He said the self-service checkouts were an additional service that would not replace traditional checkouts and it would take six months to complete the trial and analyse the results before deciding whether the retailer wanted to introduce them in other stores.

He said customer feedback had been positive, and a number of customers City Press spoke to said they liked the convenience.

Medical student Clare Phillips said it was “a great idea” as the Observatory store was a particularly busy branch with “a queue backlog like you can’t believe”.

As for potential job losses, Phillips said she doubted jobs would be shed, but the question was whether there would be “an absence of job creation” in the future.

However, she said if the company actively created jobs in other areas, then the self-service checkouts were acceptable and a welcome time-saving device for shoppers.

This reporter tried the self-service checkout and found it easy to use and saved queueing time.

There were also a number of staff on hand to provide technical assistance and to deal with pricing queries.

Read Fin24's top stories trending on Twitter:

pick n pay  |  cosatu  |  saccawu  |  retail  |  robotics
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