Delhaize shops remain closed: Unions walk out of talks with management

Delhaize shops remain closed: Unions walk out of talks with management
Unions protest during a meeting of the trade unions and the direction of supermarket chain Delhaize. Credit: Belga/Benoit Doppagne.

Trade unions met with Delhaize management on Tuesday morning for the first of three information sessions, but have reportedly walked out of the meeting after 15 minutes following deep "disagreement" over the proposed franchising move. Around 95 Delhaize shops remain closed on Tuesday, announced a spokesperson for Delhaize, Roel Dekelver.

The staff strike is continuing one week after the supermarket chain's announcement to franchise all of the 128 supermarkets under Delhaize's management.

In a press release on Tuesday, the unions stated that Delhaize is by no means in financial distress, highlighting the nearly €1 million increase in the CEO's salary, which was reportedly increased due to "robust" financial results achieved by Delhaize in the past year.

They also criticised  Delhaize's reasoning for the franchise. Comparing the 1.1% loss of growth in regular supermarkets to the 3.5% growth in franchise shops was "comparing apples with oranges".

In the context of growing tensions, trade unions met with Delhaize management on Tuesday morning for the first of three information sessions, during which the unions' questions were meant to be answered. Union believe there are other solutions that will not weaken the working conditions of 9,000 employees of the 128 supermarkets.

Unions began the meeting by reading a statement opposing the plan, which management ignored, pushing unions to walk out after about fifteen minutes.

The meeting ended early due to management's defiance over the franchising plan, which unions believe are geared towards profits and performance to push thousands of workers into precarious working conditions. The defiance from management to listen to unions's concerns is set to prolong the Delhaize strike mobilisation.

According to RTBF, the unions chanted several times: "Le Lion est mort ce soir" (The Lion is dead tonight), referring to Delahize's logo. "The withdrawal of the plan is our goal," said Wilson Wellens of the liberal union, to which the other unions stand in full agreement.

Hundreds of protesters have gathered outside the Delhaize headquarters, where the failed talks took place. The protestors are reportedly making it difficult for trucks to go to and from the distribution centre, although Delhaize management believe this will be temporary.

Contesting the franchise

The unions are against the franchising of the Delhaize shops because the "9,000 employees affected will automatically transfer to a joint committee that applies lesser working and wage conditions via collective agreement 32a and without collective dismissal," which unions do not find acceptable.

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"25% of franchised shops are in trouble and this not infrequently leads to layoffs," the statement read. "Unfortunately, these layoffs often go unnoticed because they are trickle-down and therefore invisible."

The unions urged that "there are other ways to boost sales and ensure growth than laying off the workers who have tolerated all of Delhaize's lapses over the past 10 years."

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