The Namibia Wholesale and Retail Workers Union (NWRWU) says it will not allow a relatively new concept for southern Africa, of self-service till points at local retailers, as such a system will severely affect the country’s already high unemployment figures. The self-service till point concept was introduced as far back as the early 1990’s at several retailers in Europe, the United States of America and several Asian countries and was recently installed at Pick n Pay South Africa’s Observatory store in Cape Town for testing, marking the first time the new technology is being used in southern Africa.
“As a socialist I would not allow such a system in a country where unemployment is already above 20 percent,” said Secretary General of the NWRWU, Victor Hamunyela.
NWRWU is a member of the non-affiliated Trade Union Congress of Namibia (TUCNA).
Hamunyela noted that as a signatory of the International Labour Organisation’s Decent Work Country Programme, Namibia should be cognisant of creating jobs and not reducing employment. “If we allow this then we are saying goodbye to labour. In as much as they call this ‘development’ it will actually exacerbate poverty,” said Hamunyela.
He also emphasised that the majority of the approximately 75 000 retail employees in the country have no formal qualifications to fall back on should they be replaced with automated till points.
In self-checkout systems customers are required to scan the barcodes themselves and input the types of items such as fruit and vegetable, usually with a touchscreen display. When necessary customers should also weigh produce and place all scanned items into a “bagging area”. The weight observed in the bagging area is verified against previously stored information to ensure that the correct item is bagged, allowing the customer to proceed only if the observed and expected weights match. Payment by various methods may be accepted by the machines, including bank cards or cash.
Trade unions in neighbouring South Africa are already up in arms about the automated system with the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu) saying it will hold discussions with its members on the new system. Saccawu is expected to soon announce a decision on what action it will take against Pick n Pay’s self- service till points.
South African media outlet, eNCA, recently reported that Saccawu and the union federation Cosatu plan to boycott the new machines. “We have been in discussions as Saccawu and Cosatu with our members at Pick n Pay. They are opposed to these measures. There will be formal negotiations with Saccawu the union that represents members at Pick n Pay, which will reaffirm Cosatu’s position that we are opposed to staff-less teller machines,” the Western Cape Cosatu’s Tony Ehrenreich reportedly said.
Questions sent to Pick n Pay Namibia’s parent company, Ohlthaver and List Group, were unanswered at the time of going to press. One of O&L’s properties in the central business district, Wernhil Mall, has also just introduced automated pay points at its parking facility. Although New Era Weekend has seen reports saying the affected employees will be reassigned to different departments within the O&L Group, one such employee yesterday said this is not the case. Speaking anonymously for fear of victimisation the employee, who was assisting motorists with the new automated system, said she would only be employed until October 30 this year, after which she will be without a job.
Several other car parks throughout the city, such as Maerua Mall and Grove Mall, have already installed automated pay points. While some customers welcomed the move, saying ‘gone are the days of getting attitude from cashiers’, others are concerned about the affect the new machines will have on already high unemployment and poverty.