By Cecile Jatta,
Since 1989 Sunu Kerr has established its first shopping centre close to the heart of the Gambia’s commercial centre Serrekunda. The shopping center made a name for itself by selling quality building materials, paint, stationeries and other household goods. The Gambian household brand Sunu Kerr owned by MFH Group has since expanded to establish shopping centers in Churchills Town, Jimpex, Brusibi and Banjul. However, since last week at least 18 staff of Sunu Kerr’s Serrekunda branch have had their work terminated without warning.
Laid off without warning
Speaking to one staff member who were laid off, they highlighted that “the move to close down the Serrekunda branch was not a surprising move to most of the staff especially those that have been there for a long time”. Recounting previous branch closures staff explained that the “the first branch to be closed down was at Churchill town when the manager stormed into the branch and shut it down without any notice to the staffs. The next branch to be closed down was Banjul which was also shut down without any notice.”
Similarly staff of Sunu Kerr Serrekunda have reported the closure of their branch without any warning or notice. According to some of the staff some of the high demand products have been allowed to run out of stock and not restocked on time leading to low sales. However, the Director of MFH Group, Fady Hocheimy has informed his staff otherwise.
30 Years Lease Ends
According to one of the staff “on Saturday afternoon 20th July 2019, all staff were asked to wait for the CEO, Fady Hocheimy” who had an announcement for the Serrekunda branch staff. Upon his arrival it was reported that he closed the place and called a staff meeting. According to employees present the Director announced that “I have decided to close down the shop with effect from today because our rental date is due this October which will mark the end of our 30 years deal with the owner of the building and I am not willing to renew it”.
Another staff said that “we were stunned by the news that we would be made jobless without any notice to find another job, however, we felt helpless about the situation”. By the end of the meeting 18 employees were laid off from their jobs. Some of the staff have complained that they have been working at Sunu Kerr for over two decades.
Three Staff Re-employed
By the next two days three of the staff choose to be re-employed but there were five post available at other branches owned by MFH Group. One experienced staff who have spent over two decades with the company described the situation as the worst that could happen to them, most of those affected expressed their disappointment and the impact this will have on their family upkeep for this was their sole source of income.
MFH CEO Speaks
Gainako’s Cecille Jatta secured an exclusive interview with the CEO of MFH Group, Fady Hocheimy. He confirmed that he did close down Sunu Kerr’s Serrekunda branch without any notice to any staffs. The main reason he says is down to cheaper Chinese products in the market. He says “for the past 2years, we have stopped bringing goods from Dubia and China basically because the Avenue for people to travel to these countries are now easier”.
“When they [competitors]come with their goods, they sell cheaper than Sunu Kerr because they don’t have overheads to pay for”… “We want to focus on brand products that are not the cheapest but the best. Serrekunda is a busy area where there is little or no parking space for potential and premium customers who are willing to pay for good products and to get an experience with us.”
He also cited the end of a 30 year lease which is expected to end in October. According to Mr Hocheimy he will need time “to transfer ownership back to the owner” transport their goods to another location.
According to the CEO “there is provision in the law” compelling him to give notice to staff before firing. In his view it goes both ways because he says “staffs can also do the same to the company they’re working for.” However he acknowledges that he should “have informed the staffs, we had conversation with them about this and apologised to them for not informing them in advance and all dues and rights to staffs have been paid.”
“We have consulted legal advise, the commissioner of labour regarding the rights of workers, the head of the workers union so that all we do will be transparent.”