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Delhaize offers employees assurances as strike over franchising drags on

07:14 04/05/2023

Management at the Delhaize supermarket chain have offered four guarantees to its workers as the strike over their planned shift to a franchise model continues.

Delhaize announced weeks ago that all 128 of its stores would switch to private ownership, prompting concerns from workers that they would lose benefits and pay while already struggling with poor working conditions.

Many employees have been on strike ever since. While all Delhaize stores have since reopened, many are short-staffed.

Now Delhaize is promising it will not close any supermarkets under its own management until the end of 2028, according to a written statement from management. The guarantee is also said to apply after acquisition by an independent operator.

The firm has also promised to uphold current wages and working conditions, guarantee a continuation of long-term medical leave policies and allow employees to carry over their overtime.

Despite the new assurances, talks between management and unions have gone poorly. Unions walked out of the last meeting early, with Delhaize communicating these new promises in writing later.

“Management assures that no shop will close by 2028, but it does not guarantee in any way that employment will be maintained during this same period,” said Myriam Delmée, president of the SETCA union.

“The [clause they cite] only protects workers during the transfer, so there is nothing to prevent a boss from dismissing for force majeure once the franchising operation is fully completed. The language of the management has not moved a comma, it's pure indecency.”

Delhaize management said it “remains committed to a serene and constructive dialogue and will do its utmost to answer all questions related to the future plan and to engage in debate with the social partners”.

But unions are calling for a nationwide workers’ strike on 22 May, along with a national demonstration in Brussels, warning that the franchise-model shift Delhaize is pursuing will soon spread to other sectors.

The social dialogue between workers and Delhaize has been deadlocked since the announcement of that shift in early March.

Delhaize management said it regretted that the works council meeting earlier this week did not result in a breakthrough in the discussions, but workers feel disrespected not only by the decision to change models – which was made without social consultation – but by Delhaize’s response to the subsequent strike.

Delhaize sued in a Belgian court, which sided with management in its ruling that workers were not allowed to picket. The company also sent bailiffs and called police on protesting employees, resulting in the arrest of some who refused to show their identity cards to authorities.

Unions say Delhaize also denied protesting workers access to toilet facilities.

When it comes to the new promises from management, unions say they are only smoke and mirrors.

“The art of communication at Delhaize is that they sell you a piece of crap in gift wrapping, and they tell you it's wonderful,” said Delmée.

Wilson Wellens of the CGSLB union echoed concerns, saying that promises to respect new agreements mean little when current agreements are already being violated.

“They say that in the future all agreements will be respected but already now they don't do that,” Wellens said.

“They’re opening shops with two students and a manager – this is not in line with the collective labour agreements. They don't respect their own agreements and ask us to make new ones, but the trust is no longer there.”

The next works council meeting is scheduled for 22 May, the same day that unions are calling for a nationwide general strike.

Written by Helen Lyons