With talks planned to start on Saturday afternoon at 14:00 between Delhaize management and unions, the company has once again called on bailiffs to open the picketed stores, of which there were nine on Saturday morning.
Previous attempts to reach an agreement have so far failed and the signs ahead of today's meeting are not optimistic. With indications in the run-up to the meeting marking the difference between management and union intentions, it is unclear whether negotiations will be able to end the strikes, that have gone on for almost seven weeks.
Speaking ahead of the meeting on Saturday, a company spokesperson confirmed that "Today we have called on the services of bailiffs. Not for the first time, we find ourselves resorting to stronger measures. So long as we think there are enough staff willing to work in the shops we will take this course of action to ensure that they remain open."
The spokesperson referred to the standoff as a "cat and mouse game" that sees outlets close and then reopen after intervention from bailiffs. Explaining the farcical state of affairs, they said acknowledged competing rights: "There is a right to strike but there is also a right to work."
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- Sixty Delhaize shops closed throughout Belgium on Saturday
Tensions were triggered when the Belgian supermarket giant announced on 7 March that the 128 stores that it directly managed would become franchises. Staff were angered by the decision, citing uncertainty about their professional futures. They launched nationwide strike actions.
Unions have since rallied to the cause of staff, portraying their efforts to defend working rights as a fight against sector-wide "social dumping" (replacing an established workforce with cheap labour). They argue that this is a threat facing the entire consumer retail industry.
For their part, Delhaize management insists that the current self-management model is untenable and stresses that staff would not be replaced or stores closed, rather that it would simply be a question of transferring owners.
The number of Delhaize outlets closed by the protests has dwindled over the weeks, with just three in each Belgian region on Saturday. In March, three special business councils tried to soften the face-off between unions and management but to no avail.