Between 18,000 people (police figures) and 25,000 (according to the unions) took to the streets of Brussels to protest against social dumping on Monday morning.
Protestors set off from Gare du Nord at 11:15 before reaching Gare du Midi in the early afternoon. The demonstration took place against the backdrop of ongoing employment tensions over Delhaize's decision to turn the 128 Belgian stores that it still manages directly into franchises.
Protesters affirmed their solidarity with the staff at Delhaize and reiterated fears that the franchise model might spread further in Belgium's retail landscape. Banners and signs bore slogans aimed at the management of the supermarket giant and unions argued that by franchising the shops, the company is practising “disguised” social dumping.
This is the practice of employers reducing their labour costs by replacing their workforce with staff elsewhere, or simply by outsourcing. Leader of the left-wing Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) Raoul Hedebouw was present and offered his support.
Translation of tweet: "All 'Delhaiziens'! Thousands of people have responded to the unions' call and are demonstrating in Brussels. The PTB/PVDA stands by you. For the right to demonstrate and to strike. To oppose the power of the multinationals is not a crime."
One long-standing employee of Delhaize told Belga News Agency: "The management is determined, they will continue with their franchise plan and it will be workers like us who pay the price."
She explained employees at the supermarket chain will see their salaries and working conditions "weakened" if the restructure goes ahead. Unions estimate that 6,500 jobs will be lost and insist that a deterioration of working conditions is “inevitable”.
Yet Delhaize staff were pessimistic about whether their efforts would be successful and stated that further strike actions are unlikely after Monday. This follows a court ruling which allows Delhaize management to send bailiffs to break up strikes in front of their stores. “To put commercial law before the right to collective action sets a dangerous precedent for social movements”, the unions concluded.