Delhaize strike actions: Some stores to stay closed until end of week

Delhaize strike actions: Some stores to stay closed until end of week
Delhaize staff outside the supermarket due to a spontaneous strike. Credit: Belga/Robbe Vandegehuchte.

Staff protests carried out in the wake of the announcement that Belgian supermarket chain Delhaize will turn its self-owned stores into franchises might continue until the end of this week. The actions, initiated by unions have seen stores close their doors since last Tuesday.

On Tuesday 7 March, Belgian supermarket chain Delhaize announced that it will transform the 128 remaining stores that it currently directly manages into franchises. The move has been widely condemned by unions, which fear that it will leave some 9,000 workers with lower pay and poorer working conditions.

At the start of this week, 94 shops kept their doors closed in response to the company's decision to franchise all company-owned shops. On Tuesday, unions met with Delhaize management for the first of three information sessions but walked out of the meeting after 15 minutes.

On Wednesday, 84 of the company-owned stores remained closed. Especially in Brussels and Wallonia, the willingness of staff to take part in actions remains high. The 43 shops that are open are located in Flanders.

Despite promises made by Delhaize that all staff would make the switch and keep their jobs, some 240 employees have already been told their jobs would be at risk.

Marathon campaign

On Wednesday night, a meeting will be held with all the delegations of the unions to discuss the campaign plan for the coming weeks. Chantal Delie, union representative of the BBTK at Delhaize, told The Brussels Times it is likely the actions in stores that remained closed so far will continue until Sunday 19 March.

“After the end of this week, we will probably switch to planning phased strikes, meaning one week we will focus our actions on one area and the next week in another,” Delie explained.

While the loss incurred by Delhaize in Belgium as a result of the action is likely to be huge, Ahold Delhaize is one of the largest supermarket chains in the world, with its stores in 10 countries, meaning the overall impact on a global scale will be less significant. Striking team members, however, are not being paid, which is why the actions have been deemed unsustainable in the long run.

Delie explained that strikes have been organised on a rota so that picket lines can be maintained whilst others can work: “we want to avoid people hitting a financial bottom, because people on strike don’t receive pay.”

Tweet translation: Strikes at Delhaize continue. Rightly so. That multinational that makes €2.5 billion in profits practices large-scale social dumping, commits breaches of contract & sends thousands of staff on no subcontracting should be prohibited by law in any democratic country. – Ward Coenegrachts, federal MP for left-wing PVDA party

Delie spoke of the profound anger among staff, as the latest decision follows a stream of others made by the organisation in recent years. “People are just furious, they want to continue the actions and we as unions simply refuse to go along with this plan. A large number of people would even prefer collective redundancies to this plan.”

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Unions have called on Delhaize to withdraw the plan for privatisation, as have employees, in a recently launched petition, which has been signed almost 41,500 times by customers.

"We, employees, ask you to step back in the interest of your staff and for customers to keep your shops integrated and that we employees retain all our rights and working hours, seniority, our meal vouchers, our salary and our 13th month," the petition reads. If it receives enough signatures, a copy will be sent to the government.

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