Business Maverick

TRANSPORT STRIFE

Some Western Cape supermarket shelves are bare as taxi strike hits retailers

Some Western Cape supermarket shelves are bare as taxi strike hits retailers
Retailers faced challenges replenishing their stocks this week amid the ongoing taxi strike. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

The week-long strike by taxi drivers is affecting the supply chain and causing stores to run low on fresh produce.

Empty fridges and shelves greeted shoppers in some of Cape Town’s most affluent suburbs this week, as the taxi strike in the Western Cape dragged on with no end in sight.

Retailers Spar, Woolworths, Pick n Pay and Shoprite/Checkers acknowledged challenges with stockouts at some branches, although the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) downplayed issues with stocking levels.

The CGCSA, its member retailers and manufacturers were briefed on Thursday by Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis about efforts to end the taxi strike. He and Premier Alan Winde also met the Santaco leadership at 1pm. 

Late last night, it was reported that Santaco had abandoned its strike. The mayor said Santaco had gained nothing from the strike, but everyone lost, especially the poor.

Yesterday, a CGCSA spokesperson said they had stressed the importance of a speedy resolution to the strike as it was affecting the transportation and movement of employees to places of work.

retailers taxi strike

A few bare shelves at a Pick n Pay store in Constantia, Cape Town on the evening of 10 August 2023. The retailer seemed to have recovered from the stockouts this week, after earlier running low on many fresh supplies including greens and meat. (Photo: Georgina Crouth)

“Some of our members are operating with fewer employees than normal, which is not ideal, given the disruptions in productivity.

“Contrary to media reports, we have not received indications of challenges with stocking levels. In fact, our members have expressly indicated that there are no food shortages in any of their retail stores as a result of the strike action.

“Of concern, however, is that the strike has affected the smooth operation of soup kitchens in some areas as retailers are unable to donate unsold perishable foods.

“We are, however, trying to secure safe passage of the food to enable the soup kitchens to operate normally.”

What the retailers say:

Woolworths’ press office said the retailer had decided to close operations in its supply chain on Monday due to safety concerns for employees, suppliers and service providers.

“The combined impact of the operational closure, and stores closing early due to protest action, had a significant impact on product availability in stores. 

“Woolworths resumed supply on Wednesday, 9 August, and began to deliver to stores in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape on the same day.”

Due to the impact on product availability in stores, Woolworths also suspended online and Dash deliveries on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the home delivery service back up and running on Thursday.

retailers taxi strike

A Woolworths store on Regent Road, Sea Point, Cape Town, 10 August 2023. (Photo: Rebecca Davis)

“Many Woolworths stores are not operating at full capacity because of reduced staff, product and service availability. The company hopes to have everything back in stock soon, and is doing everything possible to minimise the impact on its customers.”

Sean Komlosy, divisional marketing director for the Spar Group in the region, said they had been affected by the strike in several ways – taxi unavailability, violence experienced by bus operations, and the intimidation and threats of violence in many areas, which resulted in staff being unable to get to work.

“The support for the Spar Group in all the communities that our independent Spar retailers serve is always appreciated and has remained strong even during this difficult time due to the culture of caring and community we have created over 60 years.”

He said they were concerned for the safety and wellbeing of staff and had asked those who have been severely affected to remain at home this week.

This – in addition to the unavailability of transport, threats to security and incidents on roads – had meant limited staff on-site at their distribution centre to receive deliveries, pick orders and dispatch stock to stores, affecting stock availability and replenishment “across a handful of product categories”.

A few stores had to close for periods each day, while in some instances stores were completely shut to ensure the safety of staff and customers, which meant lost trading hours.

“This is starting to improve as more staff return to work… However, we are now experiencing heightened footfall as consumers stock up on essentials… We’re hoping for a speedy resolution for all concerned.”

The Shoprite Group, which sent photographs of a well-stocked branch alongside its response, insisted its distribution centres were all operational and that the retail group was working around the clock to ensure uninterrupted deliveries to its supermarkets.

retailers taxi strike

A Woolworths store in Gardens, Cape Town, had little stock due to the taxi strike on 9 August 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

“Supply lines to the majority of stores are currently running smoothly, with the exception of a few high-risk areas. Fresh fruit, vegetables and convenience lines are being prioritised. Selected supermarkets may temporarily be in short supply of products delivered directly to stores by suppliers, including fresh bread, dairy and eggs.

“Contingency plans are in place to keep stores open and trading as normally as possible. The supermarket chain thanks its customers for their patience and understanding.”

And Pick n Pay said: “The strike affected distribution to some of our stores around Cape Town, but we already saw this ease earlier this week as our suppliers were able to make deliveries. During times of challenge, we are reminded of our dedicated teams serving our customers, and we thank them for their hard work in helping us minimise any disruptions.”

Fresh produce stockouts

This reporter visited a few retailers in the Cape Town southern suburbs and saw stockouts of fresh fruit and vegetables and empty meat fridges. 

Staff at some of these retailers, who declined to be named, told Daily Maverick they were concerned.

At one retailer, the manager of the fresh produce department said: “Since the weekend, it’s looked like we were shutting down for good. We’ve had almost no fresh fruit or vegetables – we can’t get deliveries.”

Earlier this week, the CGCSA expressed concern about the impact of the taxi strike on the retail sector and its customers and urged taxi organisation Santaco and the Western Cape government to find an amicable way to resolve the impasse. 

Zinhle Tyikwe, CEO of the CGCSA, said while it was too early to comment on the financial impact of the strike on their members, the lack of reliable transport and accompanying violence that characterised the strike was “unfortunate”. 

“Equally worrying has been reports of destruction of infrastructure and looting, which CGCSA believes requires decisive action by law enforcement to prevent it from escalating further.

“Our major concern is that the strike has affected the availability of transport for customers of our retail members who are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to carry out their normal shopping.

“We are closely monitoring the situation, particularly on its potential impact on food security, because the longer the strike continues, the more difficult it will be for consumers to replenish their food stocks due to lack of transport,” Tyikwe said.

“While the CGCSA respects the right of the taxi industry to express their grievances through peaceful protest, we abhor and criticise the unwarranted violence and destruction of property, such as the burning of passenger buses, looting and damage to private vehicles. 

“Law enforcement should ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book and also provide security to ensure that private citizens and the business sector are protected from such incidents.”

Basic services such as refuse collection, sanitation and power supply have also been affected by the week-long taxi strike. DM

This story has been updated to reflect Pick n Pay’s comments.

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