Members of Saftu with general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, centre, during the May Day rally in central Durban. Picture: ROGAN WARD/THE TIMES
Members of Saftu with general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, centre, during the May Day rally in central Durban. Picture: ROGAN WARD/THE TIMES

Transpharm, a subsidiary of JSE-listed grocer Shoprite, is losing R11m a day due to crippling industrial action by disgruntled workers who are demanding salary increases of over 100%.

About 400 members of the General Industries and Workers Union of SA (Giwusa), an affiliate of the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), downed tools and embarked on a strike at Transpharm's distribution centre in Pretoria in support of their demands for a R12,500 minimum wage. SA's inflation rate is 4.5% although it's expected to moderate to 4%.

On Thursday, Giwusa branch chair Jan Magolego, who also serves as the shop steward committee chair at the company, said the strike started on Tuesday.

He said most workers earned R4,500 per month and that the strike had effectively shut down the company's operations. “We are the majority union there. The company is saying to us it is losing R11m per day as a result of the strike,” Magolego said.

If this figure is correct the company has lost R33m to date.

Magolego said the company had been largely mute on their demands. Shoprite CEO Pieter Engelbrecht earned a R20.3m salary package in 2018, down from R25.8m in 2017, according to the company's 2018 integrated report.

Transpharm is one of SA's largest pharmaceutical wholesalers and distributors. The company supplies over 30,000 pharmacy, dental, surgical and veterinary products to hospitals, clinics, GPs and Medirite Pharmacy outlets, a Shoprite subsidiary.

A protracted wage strike could cripple the company financially and lead to its clients running short of medicine.

“Due to industrial action at our Pretoria distribution centre we are unable to process any orders or assist with any queries today ... will inform you when normal operations resume,” the company said.

The company refused to make any further comment.

Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who will be addressing the striking workers at Hermanstad in Pretoria on Friday, said the labour federation supported the workers' demands.

“Transpharm is already using the highly restrictive labour laws, passed late last year, which include secret balloting before workers can embark on strike action and other picketing rules, to stifle the rights of workers to struggle for decent wages and working conditions,” Vavi said.

“In an attempt to undermine the strike action, in line with the passed said stringent labour laws, the company has applied for a court order to interdict the workers.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za