If you don't read the business press, you might have missed the fight underway over who gets to arrange the goods on the shelves of supermarket chain Super-Sol, Israel's biggest retailer. The big food manufacturers such as Strauss, Osem and Tnuva have traditionally stocked their own shelves; one bright day, however, the chain announced that it was taking over this function and would charge suppliers accordingly. Suppliers began waging a bitter war and even asked for permission from the anti-monopoly authorities to unite with them for fear the move would harm their sales.
As a sidebar to this battle's reverberations in the media, the wages that Super-Sol plans to pay the people, mostly women, who will do the job came to light, as did the stark contrast between those wages and the profits the retail giant stands to make from the change. The chain reportedly wants to charge suppliers a total of NIS 240 million for placing their goods on the shelves. It will employ 1,275 arrangers at an "employers' cost" of NIS 5,300 a month, which includes salary and compulsory benefits. In other words, Super-Sol will lay out some NIS 80 million to NIS 85 million and rake in a tidy profit of NIS 150 million a year.
This means that only about a third of the price it exacts from suppliers will go to the people actually doing the work, each of whom will earn a gross salary of NIS 4,500 a month and take home the measly sum of NIS 3,950 after taxes. The company itself, on the other hand, will make another NIS 150 million on top of the NIS 512 million that was its 2008 operating profit, which enabled it to pay out dividends of NIS 108 million.
This stunningly enormous gap shows the extent to which the people who control companies see themselves superior to the minions who do the work: They may just as well be ants, lacking an identity and having only the most basic needs; people who should be grateful for just being allowed to work. After all, there are thousands, in fact millions of them.
For the sake of simple arithmetic, if the additional NIS 240 million in revenues were to be divided among the 1,275 shelf-stockers, each would get NIS 15,686 a month, before taxes. Just imagine what a different world it would be: Instead of Super-Sol's controlling shareholder Nochi Dankner helping himself to another NIS 11.5 million at the end of the year (based on the figures for 2008, a relatively poor year), the workers would live in comparative comfort with a net monthly salary of NIS 11,100 that would allow them to give their children a good education, healthy food, adequate housing, proper medical care and a vacation or two each year. Not the high life of Dankner, but a decent standard of living nonetheless.
Ostensibly, the solution to this intolerable discrepancy should have been found in fair behavior by the controlling shareholders, the people who juggle those enormous sums around to their own advantage. But people like this don't believe in fairness. They wouldn't dream of sharing their profits with the people who work for them and who generate those profits. What they believe in is the free market; a market that lets them freely impoverish the employees and then make themselves look generous when they donate large sums to charities of their choice. They create new power clusters for themselves that will only increase their control over society.
The solution to such blatant injustices lies in legislation. This includes immediate legislation that will set a reasonable minimum wage, one that people can live on. It also includes more complex laws that in the long term will change the structures that enable so few people to employ so many wage slaves, people whom they never meet and toward whom they feel no obligations.
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