Delhaize, one of Belgium’s largest supermarket chains, recently announced that it intends to franchise all of its stores in the country. The move has sparked outrage among workers, who understand it as a direct attack on their conditions. Their unions Setca–BBTK, CNE, ACV Puls and CGSLB-ACLVB are acting in unison to push back against management’s power grab.
The decision to franchise the stores means that Delhaize will no longer directly employ the 9,000 people working in its supermarket. Instead, the hundreds of individual supermarket-franchises will be responsible for the workers’ employment, including wages, working hours, and benefits. Negotiating with many single employers – who themselves don’t have much margin of operation – rather than as one country-wide block drastically weakens the collective bargaining power of workers.
Moreover, the workers in the franchised stores would be placed under a different sector agreement with worse conditions than those in the directly owned stores. Workers in franchised store sectors have lower pay, greater uncertainty in their hours, more frequent redundancies and can be made to work on Sunday. Delhaize has also announced the dismissal of 247 positions within its administrative services.
Unions have called on the government not to allow workers to be moved to a sector designed for small and medium-sized companies. They have also mobilised for the meeting of the works council, which ended after only 15 minutes. In subsequent meetings management imposed private security body searches on workers’ representatives, who refused, grinding any negotiations to a halt.
The company is part of the Netherlands-based Ahold-Delhaize group which reports to serve 60 million people every week across Europe, the USA and Indonesia. The franchise move by Delhaize is part of a broader trend of companies evading responsibility for their workers, while retaining control over their brand and product.
“Delhaize workers and their unions are standing up for conditions on which people can work in dignity, for democracy at work and for shared prosperity. We stand with them. The Belgian model delivers the lowest level of inequality of any of its neighbouring countries. Its strong collective bargaining structures should be an inspiration for Europe, throughout which workers face similar attacks. Supermarket workers, who kept the shelves stacked throughout the pandemic at great personal risk and sacrifice, deserve dignity. The time for politicians to clap at their balcony is over. Now is time for them to act in support of covid heroes,” said Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa.