Caracas, January 19, 2009 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Waving banners saying “Yes to expropriation!” workers form the supermarket chain Éxito celebrated the decision of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, to nationalise the French-Colombian owned transnational company for speculation offenses on Sunday.
Nationalisation proceedings were initiated against Éxito following inspections by the consumer defence institute INDEPABIS as part of a broader campaign against price speculation after Venezuela’s Bolivar currency was devalued on January 8.
Speaking to state-owned television station VTV on Monday, a group of workers from the Éxito supermarket in Terrazas del Ávila, Miranda state, applauded the measure and denounced the company for speculation and abusive anti-worker practices.
Exito Workers Union secretary, Caren Castillo, said, “They ignore the INDEPABIS inspections and now, after the adjustment of the dollar, sell more expensively than they normally do. They remark and increase prices as they please.”
Union health and safety secretary Claudia Romero said the company often ignores increases in employment benefits issued from the Labor Ministry as well as occupational health and safety requirements covered by the Food Act. She said that the majority of workers support the measure.
Yeisi Colmenares, an Exito worker who suffered an accident at work two years ago and lost two fingers as a result, said, “When the accident happened to me they would not cover any medical expenses. I earn the minimum wage and with that I covered my expenses. But also they suspended my salary for the days I was resting; they called me a parasite.”
Union claims secretary Lisbeth Jiménez also denounced delays in negotiations for a collective contract, adding that the company had ignored National Institute of Prevention, Health and Safety at Work (INPSASEL) regulations.
“We, the workers are the ones who make this shop work, while they (the management) are exploiters who do not respect the law or job security. We applaud this measure taken by the state,” Jiménez stated.
Trade Minister Eduardo Samán said that the company not only committed speculation offensives but also treated their workers badly.
“We have long accompanied and maintained direct contact with employees of Exito and are aware of all the abuses they have suffered and the struggle they have carried out for their claims,” Samán said.
The Exito stores in Venezuela will be incorporated into the Corporation of Socialist Markets (COMERSO), a publicly owned network of subsidised supermarkets and food stores he added.
The minister explained that measure would be taken hand in hand with the workers, who will continue receiving their wages and other benefits throughout the transition and will have their job security guaranteed under the new system.
It will be the workers themselves who will maintain the operations of the Exito stores and “generate transformative change towards a fair trading system,” he elaborated.
Samán added that workers who have been unfairly dismissed will also be rehired, in line with a directive from the Labour Ministry, a measure, which he said the company had failed to observe.
Exito stores nationwide will remain open to the public, but with fair prices, without speculation or hoarding or marked up prices he said.
As part of the broader campaign against speculation, INDEPABIS and officers from the National Guard have inspected 1,967 businesses since the devaluation and sanctioned 1,031 of them with fines and temporary closures.
In addition to combating speculation the government has also decreed a 25 percent minimum wage increase and is expanding access to subsidised goods to offset inflationary impacts on workers and the poor as a result of the devaluation.
Venezuela’s opposition aligned business chamber FEDECAMARAS, which lead a failed coup against the democratically elected Chavez in 2002, criticised the government’s actions, claiming they “violate the right to private property” in article 115 of the constitution. However, Venezuela’s constitution allows for nationalisation, with compensation, if it is deemed to be of “public utility.”