* Company bows to government pressure on sackings
* Zambia is seen as growth area for Shoprite
* Zambia attracted over $3 bln in FDI in H1 2013
(Adds Shoprite comments)
By Chris Mfula
LUSAKA, Oct 17 Zambia threatened to shut
Shoprite stores on Thursday, a move that could tarnish
its image as an investor-friendly frontier market, after the
South African retailer fired 3,000 workers who went on strike.
Labour minister Fackson Shamenda said the company - Africa's
biggest grocer - had backtracked on the sackings and it had been
given 10 days to resolve the grievances over pay that triggered
the strike action.
"We told them we would revoke their trading licence if they
went ahead with the dismissals," Shamenda told Reuters, adding
that Shoprite should be paying far above the minimum wage.
"I have now given them 10 days in which to negotiate and
resolve the problem. All the outlets are working normally now
and I am on my way to buy bread from Shoprite."
Shoprite spokeswoman Sarita van Wyk said the company would
resume wage talks with union leaders next week following the
order from the government.
"Due to pressure from the Zambian government, which is of
the view that the minimum wage for the shop worker sector is not
applicable to Shoprite as a foreign investor, Shoprite will
return to the negotiation table," she said in a statement.
Workers led by the National Union of Commercial and
Industrial Workers, who went on strike to demand higher pay and
improved working conditions, have returned to work, the union's
president Robert Munsanje said.
Zambia, the second biggest market for Shoprite outside its
home market, is one of the growth hot spots for South African
retailers looking to offset weak growth prospects at home.
"It appears Shoprite was within their rights to fire those
workers but given Zambia's potential it is in their best
interest to come to some sort of an amicable understanding on
how these sort of things are handled," said Savusha Kander, a
portfolio manager at Johannesburg-based Ashburton Investments.
Lusaka attracted more than $3 billion in foreign investment
in the first half of this year, above the government target for
the whole year, President Michael Sata said last month.
Sata is a populist who swept to power two years ago on a
platform that promised an activist state to defend workers and
reduce poverty in the southern African country, the continent's
top copper producer.
"Sata was always going to be interventionist - that's what
he campaigned on. But his interventions are legitimate, or have
been so far," said Francois Conradie, a political analyst at NKC
"They were all cases of enforcing labour and health and
safety rules and refusing to tolerate big foreign-owned
companies exploiting their Zambian workers," he said.
Shares in Shoprite were 0.67 percent higher at 1106 GMT,
largely in line with Johannesburg's Top-40 index.
(Additoonal reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng and Ed Stoddard;
Writing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Ruth Pitchford and