Some 2,500 people took to the streets of Belgium's capital on Monday morning and gathered in front of the Federal Public Service Employment Office to demand an "end to social dumping" in the retail sector.
The joint trade union front (BBTK, ACV Puls, CNE and ACLVB) organised the action to raise the issue of what it refers to as "social dumping" by the owners of supermarkets and other stores. Participants chanted "Stop social dumping in commerce" and "All together in this" as they walked through the city's streets and stood in front of the offices of the FPS Work, Labour and Social Dialogue.
The demonstration comes one month after Delhaize's management announced it would franchise its 128 self-managed shops, which has resulted in various stores shutting their doors for days on end and social tensions with the trade unions, culminating in one union filing a criminal complaint.
The unions fear this franchise model will spread throughout the Belgian retail sector.
The front cited the ongoing strikes as Delhaize tries to push through a franchise plan. It also highlighted supermarket chain Mestdagh, which early this year decided to franchise its 51 integrated shops to the Intermarché group. Both were shown as examples of a "societal shift" in which "profit dictates the law," and "human beings no longer have any value."
"The reality of franchising today is precarious contracts, students and 'flexi-jobs'," said one Delhaize employee.
While the action is largely a response to the treatment of staff and the unions by Delhaize, workers from other store chains such as Makro, Action, Brico and Ikea also took to the streets to share their fears about their professional futures if these stores too start franchising.
"Accepting the franchising of the Mestdagh and Delhaize groups means accepting that the same situation could be set up everywhere else. No to the 'uberisation' of the sector," the unions said.
List of demands
The unions stated that they will submit a list of demands to the employers on Monday evening, as part of the sectoral negotiations that will begin this week.
They will also put the "issue of the differences between the joint committees on the table," referring to the fact that there is an "excessive number of joint committees" in the sector, thus resulting in differences in working conditions between each of them, which they argued makes social dumping possible.
The common front is calling for a simplification and harmonisation of the joint committees to align working conditions.
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The common trade union front will also meet on Tuesday with representatives of the smaller joint committees (UCM, Comeos and Unizo) to discuss the "less favourable conditions" affecting the workers dependent on them.