Solidarity proves successful for Lidl’s workers in Belgium

Friday 25 May 2018

Lidl’s business model is based on offering low prices on high quality products, subsidised by a low living wage and high workload for its workers As Lidl expands and its sales flourish at the expense of its workers, a week long series of strikes was organised across Belgium in a massive show of solidarity.

There were multiple factors which caused the strike: the dismissal of a worker who could no longer cope with the soaring work pressure; the shutdown of another store at the beginning of April; and the multitude of vague promises to combat work pressure from management which did not materialise.

In an attempt to pacify the movement, management embarked on consultations with SETCa-BBTK. In a unhelpful turn of events Lidl’s management brought new demands to the negotiating table – extended opening hours and opening shops on Sunday.

After another round of unsuccessful negotiations on 24th April, spontaneous strikes broke out at three branches, with more strikes at different branches the following day and half of the shops closed due to strikes by 27th April.

Lidl management proposed – on a take it or leave it basis – that each store would get the equivalent of 42 extra staff hours per week to ease work pressure for a maximum of six months. Given this time constraint and the company’s dubious record in keeping promises, the proposal was ultimately vetoed. By 29th April, evening workers had managed to block all five of Lidl’s distribution centers.

After a wave of strikes covering more than a week, Lidl’s management acceded to the union’s request on the 1st May. They agreed to 42 extra staff hours per week, per shop, indefinitely. In addition, management conceded to take the necessary time to analyse the internal operation and search for solutions through a new collective labour agreement focussing on a framework on flexibility and student work, employee well-being, elevation of contract of part-time employees, simplification of tasks, reduction of the workload and stability of the work schedules with clear and compelling negotiating calender.

Given Lidl’s notoriety for its union-busting measures, collective action payed off in Belgium and this is a historic victory for workers.