Two more WE fashion shops have closed in recent days, and the union that represents private sector employees says the Dutch clothing chain is deliberately skirting the law regarding negotiating with workers who are laid off as a result.
WE has been closing its stores throughout Belgium for several months now, including in Brussels and Wallonia, citing the pandemic.
“In a few months, we have had the announcement of the closure of shops in Namur, La Louvière, Woluwe(-Saint-Lambert) and Rue Neuve,” said Jalil Bourhidane of the National Central of Employees and Executives of the Private Sector (CNE) in a press release.
“Yesterday, we learned that the last WE shop in Brussels, in Westland, and a shop in Liège would be closed. On the French-speaking side of the country, there are only three shops left: two in Liège and one in Verviers, shops whose closure we expect to be announced in the coming weeks.”
According to the union, the chain is deploying a strategy aimed at circumventing laws that would require it to provide aid for workers who are laid off.
“The company has decided to stagger its closures over time,” CNE explained. “Thanks to this, it escapes the conditions of the Renault procedure which would require it to negotiate a social plan.”
“Instead, it can lay off workers at a lower cost. For the Woluwé shop, for example, the closure of the shop will be at a cost of zero euros - the workers will serve their entire notice period in the shop.”
Similar claims have been made regarding the closures of several H&M stores across Belgium.
The union says management has created a “climate of terror” in the WE stores, and that workers who reacted to the closures by challenging management or striking received threats and warnings.
The workers' organisation expects a reaction from the authorities.
“Examples of multinational textile companies flouting our legislation when closing shops are multiplying,” said CNE. “Politicians need to tighten up this legislation, otherwise tomorrow workers in our country can be made redundant at almost no cost and without any protection.”