'Not easy to fill': 2,000 vacancies in Belgian warehouses

'Not easy to fill': 2,000 vacancies in Belgian warehouses
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Warehouses in Belgium are struggling with staff shortages, with the country’s five biggest supermarket companies currently looking for more than 2,000 employees. Meanwhile, the workload of existing staff is significantly increasing.

The labour market squeeze is affecting nearly all sectors, but the staff shortages in warehouses are reportedly gradually becoming untenable. Colruyt currently has around 700 vacancies for shop assistants, mainly in Flanders and Brussels.

“Like other companies, we are also experiencing the delayed impact of Covid-19 on staff turnover: employees face different challenges in a labour market that offers many opportunities,” said Spokesperson Eva Biltereyst. “In addition, a few hundred employees internally grow into other positions every year.”

Brussels and Flanders

At Delhaize, managers and trade unions discussed the problem earlier this month, as 200 open vacancies remain unfilled. “That is just for our 130 own stores, not counting the 700 branches with independent operators,” says Spokesman Roel Dekelver. “We are looking for people with a passion for food and customer service. Anyone who is enthusiastic and willing to roll up their sleeves is welcome.”

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All chains are in the same boat, as Dutch supermarket company Albert Heijn is looking for 390 extra store employees today, while Aldi acknowledges that the sales employee positions are “not easy to fill”. The discount-supermarket chain currently has 153 vacancies in Flanders and Brussels, while also looking for 30 assistant store managers.

Meanwhile, Lidl is also looking for an extra 716 employees, of which 625 are in Flanders and Brussels.

Sub-par contracts

Competition between the warehouses is further increasing the difficulty in finding staff, especially since discounters such as Lidl and Aldi have become more widely established in recent years and new players such as Albert Heijn and Jumbo made their way onto the Belgian market. In this highly competitive market, the focus is also increasingly on Sunday openings.

“In addition, people turn their noses up at working in the trade,” says Jan De Weghe, Federal Trade Union Secretary for Food at Employee Association BBTK. “The value of the contract must be increased.”

The role of a shop assistant is demanding, while the remuneration is subpar. Full-time cashiers and other store staff are among the lowest-paid professions in Belgium, earning an average of about €2,500 gross.

“The sector urgently needs full-time contracts, rather than part-time contracts with a 24-hour work week,” De Weghe argues. “Department stores, however, are better off with 40 part-time employees than 20 full-time employees, as working hours depend on several factors.”

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