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All Brussels Delhaize stores still closed, unions block depots as management tries to subvert strike

20:44 21/03/2023

All Brussels Delhaize supermarkets, and several others around the country, remain closed as workers continue their strike.

Workers are striking because Delhaize management announced it would switch all its grocery stores to a franchise model.

About 70 of Delhaize's 128 own shops remain closed in protest against the move. The disruption is perhaps greatest for Brussels, where all 22 shops are closed.

Employees of the grocery chain were shocked by the announcement of a switch to independent ownership of stores, and concerned that they stand to lose in the switch.

An independent owner could run the store as they see fit, and workers fear pay cuts, poorer working conditions and a loss of benefits based on seniority, among other things.

“The workers want to support the demand of the workers of the integrated shops, but on the other hand they also have little confidence in the future plan of this management for the whole company, and the logistics,” the unions explained in a joint announcement.

“Workers are also worried. Working conditions are already extremely difficult in the depots: back problems, working hours, night work, low wages. More and more concessions have been demanded from depot workers in terms of flexibility.

"Knowing that the independent shops are open longer, also on Sundays, they are much more demanding, with all the consequences that this implies for the workers in the distribution centres.”

Over the weekend, workers blocked depots so that the stores still open would be unable to restock.

Some trade unions associated with the depots even willingly stopped working in a show of solidarity and support for the Delhaize strike.

The blockades of depots started after Delhaize management decided to hire security agents to oversee the negotiations, a move that left unions outraged.

Management also planned larger-than-usual deliveries to still-open stores in an effort to pre-empt depot blockades.

Additionally, unions say Delhaize is trying to subvert the strike by offering free home delivery to customers.

National secretary for commerce at the CNE union Myriam Djegham said this showed how little management cares for its staff, considering Delhaize is willing to spend the equivalent of several staff salaries on promoting free deliveries.

“The free home delivery offer represents more or less €18,000 per day,” Djegham explained.

“Wages in commerce are particularly low. We are once again faced with a form of contempt on the part of the employer.”

Other grievances that the unions have with Delhaize pre-date the announcement to franchise, which makes that decision more akin to the straw that broke the camel’s back, rather than the single source of discontent between unions and management.

“The Delhome depot has gone from 78 full-time employees in 2014 to 30 today, and alongside this, management is outsourcing work to more self-employed contractors,” Marina Kunzi, permanent staff member at the CSC A&S, explained.

“Delhaize subcontracts deliveries to Delhome, which in turn subcontracts deliveries to two subcontractors, ALS and Green Bird, who in turn subcontract to several companies who still subcontract work to self-employed people who are active associates of these subcontracting companies.”

The unions are demanding that the integrated shops be maintained, that the self-employed workers who perform the functions of a full time employee (but without any social benefits) be hired on a contract basis and that additional staff be hired to reduce the workload.

“The blockades are a warning,” CNE’s Djegham said. “We will not hesitate to go further if we are not heard by Delhaize and Delhome.”

Photo: Benoit Doppagne/Belga

Written by Helen Lyons