Jet-Mart’s 10-hour shifts likened to slavery

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Windhoek

Cashiers at several clothing stores across the country that are owned by South African clothing retailer Jet-Mart must remain standing for nearly ten-hours during their daily shifts to serve customers – a practice that is possibly in conflict with existing laws.

At Jet-Mart Stores in Town Square, Wernhill Park, Maerua Mall, Soweto and Khomasdal, among others, cashiers generate sales running into millions of Namibian dollars a day, but say they work in “slave-like conditions” and have to stand all day, to the detriment of their health.

Cashiers at these shops say they suffer from fatigue, stress and other work-related illnesses that they attribute to working close to 10 hours daily, from 08h00 to around 19h00.

Employees who spoke to New Era on condition of anonymity – because Jet-Mart is allegedly quick to dismiss those who complain – said they are made to stand for the entirety of their shifts at the checkout counters, as the company does not provide chairs.

Workers told this reporter that even their pregnant colleagues are forced to stand for the duration of their backbreaking shifts, or are asked to provide a medical certificate to exempt them from standing all day. Pregnant workers feel that their unborn babies are at risk as a result of this corporate practice.

“This has forced many of our pregnant ladies to go on early maternity leave or even to quit, as they could not provide such a medical certificate,” said one Jet Mart employee who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals.

She said during her pregnancy a few years ago she was forced to go on early maternity leave, as she was unable to stand for such long hours.

Following a visit to three different stores in the capital yesterday New Era can confirm that Jet-Mart employees are required to stand for the duration of their shift.

Contacted for comment, Edcon’s PR firm, Rubenstein Public Relations’ director Michael Rubenstein said Edcon is a caring employer and always strives to create a comfortable working environment for its employees.

“Our employees, depending on the specific job, are from time to time, required to stand when on duty,” he said, adding that the company will always attempt to accommodate sick people, people with disabilities and pregnant women, relative to the stage of pregnancy.

Rubenstein said the company would however probe the complaint.
The secretary general of Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau), Jacob Penda, whose union represents workers at Jet-Mart claimed it was the first time he was hearing such complains, but promised to investigate the matter.

“It’s very sad to hear this. It’s the responsibly of every employer to take care of the wellbeing of their employees. Surely, I don’t see any reason why a company will not provide chairs for checkout workers,” he said, adding that the union would meet with the employers to hear the reasons for this practice.

Namibian law on workplace health, safety and the welfare of employees at work does not mention anything in terms of chronically standing at work. However, a United Kingdom online health website (safeworkers.co.uk), says standing for long periods can be bad for one’s health, because of the strain on the lower limbs.

The website says problems include aching muscles, hazardous pressure on the hip, knees and ankle joints, as well as damaged feet. The foot-related ailments include corns and bunions. Standing can also lead to flat feet and heel spurs, it notes. It further states that the symptoms people usually experience include lower limb swelling, tiredness and discomfort.

Medical professionals also link standing for long periods to varicose veins and a condition known as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), which arises when the veins cannot send enough blood to the heart.

Jet-Mart is part of Edcon Group, the largest non-food retailer in South Africa. It has been in operation for more than 80 years and has expanded over the years to include over 1 400 stores through nine different store formats.

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