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South African Unions Grill Wal-Mart Over Jobs

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

South African unions are throwing cold water on Wal-Mart Stores $2.4 billion takeover plans of Massmart, a major African retailer.

Union leaders say the move by Wal-Mart could cause thousands of job losses and worsen labor conditions. A new report, commissioned by South Africa's economic development and agricultural departments, warned that if the new owner shifted just 1% of merchandise purchases from domestic to foreign suppliers, it could lead to the loss of some 4,000 jobs.

The Competition Tribunal of South Africa, an independent body, must approve or reject the plan.

While sustained economic growth in Africa has produced for the first time a broad middle class, one that cuts across the continent and is on par with the size of the middle classes in the billion-person emerging markets of China and India, there are still not enough jobs for those of working age.

According to one report, there are roughly four million South Africans unemployed or a quarter of all those able to work.

Meanwhile, a consortium of unions including the South Africa Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union, UNI Global Union, and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union have been grilling Wal-Mart concerning their perceived hostility to unions.

"We have prepared a clear case that shows that Wal-Mart has a history around the world of suppressing union and worker rights," said Christy Hoffman of UNI Global Union, the worldwide union federation representing 20 million workers.

Researcher Kenneth Jacobs of the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, provided an affidavit noting that Wal-Mart has depressed retail wages in the communities where it operates.

Former Wal-Mart VP, Andrew Bond, said it was "premature" to predict what impact a merger would have on job creation in South Africa, but stressed that it was expected to be "positive."

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