Restructuring disguised as liquidation? How cross border union solidarity is saving livelihoods at Camaïeu fashion retail chain

Wednesday 26 August 2020

Unions from France (CGT, FO, CFDT), Belgium (CNE, Setca) and Luxembourg (OGBL) have come together to save jobs following suspicious manoeuvres by top management. Unions accuse top management of having tried to use the crisis situation to accelerate liquidation and evade responsibilities towards workers under a restructuring process.

“While much work remains ahead, this is exactly the sort of international solidarity and union coordination we need in this moment. Corporations will use different jurisdictions to evade their responsibilities, but we must meet them at every corner and hold them to account,” said Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary at UNI Europa.

The unions formed a common front to coordinate their actions and share strategic information. Evidence they uncovered indicates top management intentionally siphoned money from operations in Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland towards the French arm of the corporation.

Subsequently, management filed for bankruptcy in Belgium. As a result, worker compensation will be lower and shouldered by public budgets. Unions in Belgium believe that the aim of this manoeuvre was to dodge compensation payments to workers, amongst other conditions, that would have been required in the case of a restructuring procedure.

Union evidence suggests a premeditated operation in which top management made a strategic decision to accelerate a bankruptcy. This points to a hole in EU legislation and enforcement that allows corporations to force bankruptcies and abandon workers they relied on mid-crisis.

“If the EU is to come out of this crisis stronger, it must show it is on the side of working people and not of opportunistic managements. We’ve put forward proposals to ensure that the billions in bailout funds be structured to do just that. This includes a proposal to require that any corporate recipient of bailout funds be required to engage with their workers and sign a collective bargaining agreement. Our proposals have so far not been taken up,” said Oliver Roethig.

Meanwhile in France, Camaïeu also filed for bankruptcy and went into administration, putting the livelihoods of over 3000 workers in limbo. The corporation’s president then put in a bid to buy back the French arm of the corporation. The bid included a plan to wipe out jobs and close numerous shops. It would also have resulted in offloading substantial amount of the debt incurred through past strategic errors, including onto public budgets.

In France, unions backed an alternative bid that committed to maintaining more employment and keeping more shops open. The administration process came to a close last week when a commercial court ruling agreed with the unions and selected the alternative takeover bid. Elsewhere, the administration process is still ongoing.

“We have heard first hand reports by workers saying that they got a call at lunch time informing them that their shop was closing definitively that very day. Like lightning conductors, top managements are transferring all the shocks incurred, often amplified by their dodgy dealings and mismanagement, onto workers. We will not stand for this. Governments must step in to stop working people.

“Now is the time to organise. From the workplace to the international level, we will need all hands on deck. At UNI Europa we are redoubling our efforts in our trade union alliances that bring unions from different countries that work within the same multinational corporation together for exactly this type of coordination,” said Oliver Roethig.

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