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Delhaize strike: Police stop depot blockade, strikers denied access to store toilets

07:24 07/04/2023

Workers for supermarket chain Delhaize continue to strike following the announcement that the company will switch all 128 of its stores over to a franchise model, potentially jeopardising the social rights of employees.

In addition to closing stores in protest, unions have also organised blockades of depot centres that service what shops remain open.

But management called police to intervene in one such blockade overnight between Wednesday and Thursday.

“It was done in a heavy-handed way,” said CNE delegate Elisabeth Lovecchio. “Despite the fact that our action, taken in a joint-union front, was very peaceful.”

Hundreds of workers participated in the blockade at the depot in Zellik, Flemish Brabant, and no one was injured. Several trucks did manage to leave the depot, but eight were prevented from doing so.

Unions are striking because they are concerned that the switch to a franchise model, in which stores are independently run by private individuals, will lead to worse pay and working conditions.

Grocery store employees are already dealing with more stressful working conditions, not only at Delhaize but also elsewhere. Exacerbating factors include staff shortages and an influx of workers with non-permanent contracts, which provide less labour protections.

But Delhaize management is sticking to its decision and negotiations with unions have led nowhere.

Now, RTL reports, the supermarket group is locking the bathrooms in stores so that strikers cannot use the toilet.

“We’re using a toilet a little further from the shop,” CGSLB union delegate David Ducarmois told RTL.

“It's very hard because we don't know how much longer it will last, or what they will do next to toughen the movement. It's a provocation on the part of the management.”

Workers say that the management is taking more punitive measures ahead of a big shopping period - the Easter weekend - hoping to have stores open in time to reap profits.

“We really feel that Delhaize wants to reopen for Easter and will do everything possible to make it so,” said Charlotte Lorent, CNE trade union delegate. “They are also threatening to close some shops if the staff don't want to work again.”

But workers are also prepared to take tougher measures given the stakes.

“I've been working at Delhaize for 23 years and they want to throw me out with nothing,” one employee at the blockade told RTL.

“They promise, but nothing has been signed. They don't want to answer us. We're waiting.”

Across the country, 44 of Delhaize's 128 shops were closed this week. The other 84 were open: all 65 own shops in Flanders, two out of 22 in Brussels and 17 out of 41 in Wallonia.

Photo: Benoit Doppagne/Belga

Written by Helen Lyons