Uchumi staff down tools over salaries

Uchumi Supermarket employees in parts including Mombasa, Karatina and Eldoret have downed their tools in a demand for May and June salaries. The Moi Avenue branch is the only one at the Coast and has 42 workers.

George Oyugi, Uchumi workers union shop steward, said the management has refused to hold talks with them and has threatened dismissal.

“We have not been paid for two months. Our May and June salaries have not reflected in our accounts yet the management has remained mum,” said Oyugi.

He noted they were promised the money would be wired by June 30. Operations at the supermarket were paralysed, forcing senior workers in the management team to serve customers who trickled in.

The branch manager refused to speak to the media or address the workers who protested at the entrance to the supermarket.

“Our pension has not been paid for the last year. Overtime has also not been paid and instead of explaining the problem, the management is threatening us.”

Uchumi, which has about 1,300 employees, has confirmed the salaries delay.

The chain has attributed this to cash flows problems that have rendered it unable to meet several other obligations. In Karatina town, at least 35 workers took to the streets over the salaries issue.

They waved placards and twigs and chanted slogans against Group chief executive Julius Kipng’etich. They later camped outside the branch. James Mungai, Kenya Union of Commercial, Food and Allied Workers spokesman in the area, called for the reinstatement of former CEO Jonathan Ciano.

“Going without two months’ salaries is oppression of the highest order. We had agreed that they would pay us by May 30 and June 10 but they have not. Statutory deduction have not been remitted to the bank and we have now been blacklisted so we cannot get loans. That is why we are protesting,” said Oduor.

“The CEO has failed the company…it is high time Kipng’etich vacated the office so we can have effective leadership and a vibrant workforce.”

Branch shop steward David Machoka said: “It is laughable that they have resorted to giving workers advance payments of as little as Sh1,000.That is not enough to meet our basic needs.” The workers said they have also been threatened with job losses should they carry on with the strike.

“The management has now threatened to sack us because of the strike. We gave notice but they did not respond. In May, we gave a third notice but they did not respond,” said Machoka.

Branch manager Kelvin Olwango refused to comment on the matter saying the company policy does not allow him to.

Nakumatt Supermarket, Kenya’s largest retailer, is also facing financial troubles and has not paid its 1,555 employees their May salaries. Nakumatt is said to have sent more than 100 workers on compulsory leave citing low business volumes.

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