Upmarket retailer Woolworths yesterday said the majority of those affected by its decision to change employee contracts had opted to stay with the group, rejecting claims from trade unions that it planned to cut 177 jobs.
Woolworths announced last month that it had decided to move 3%, or 593, of its store employees to flexible working hours contracts. This, it said, was because of the growing need for longer trading hours and the seven-day-a-week operation most local retailers practised.
Out of more than 17,000 employees, 593 were on outdated contracts which were created at a time when its stores only opened until 1pm on Saturdays and were closed on Sundays and public holidays. The affected employees were given three options: changing to contracts stipulating flexible hours‚ leaving with a voluntary severance payment or, for those over 50‚ taking early retirement.
Yesterday Woolworths said in a statement that most of its employees had picked one of options it had afforded them. "About 80% of affected employees have accepted one of the voluntary options that were proposed.
"The majority of the affected 593 employees have opted to stay with Woolworths. Less than 1% (about 145) of all store employees have, regrettably, chosen not to avail themselves of any of the options."
Sam Ngumeni, Woolworths chief operating officer, said the company hoped that further consultations with affected employees would resolve the situation.
The South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union yesterday cast doubts on Woolworths' motives. "The real reason for the so-called conversion of employment contracts was nothing but a manoeuvre to get rid of workers, to drive costs down and profits up, at the expense of workers and the many dependent on already low wages, " it said.
Meanwhile, questions were yesterday raised about Justin Harrison, the blogger who accused Woolworths of racist employment policies and who called a boycott of the company.
Harrison's claims that Woolworths posted advertisements on its career site that excluded whites has unleashed a social media frenzy of both criticism and support for the company.
Woolworths CEO Ian Moir said the accusations were simply not true. Woolworths, as with the rest of companies in the country, had a role to play in transformation as required by legislation.
Local website 2oceansvibe has said after an extensive investigation "it could reveal that the blogger whistleblower had some integrity/ challenging skeletons of his own".
In an article on its website titled "Is Woolworths Whistleblower SA's Biggest Online Fake?", the website used analytics tools and interviewed members of the local digital marketing community.
"It seems like Harrison was called out for the high number of fake followers on his account as far back as 2009," the website said.
It added that Harrison refused to comment on questions put to him asking whether he had ever bought Twitter followers. Neither would he explain the massive spikes in his Twitter and YouTube statistics.
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