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Brussels region scraps Molenbeek's tax on supermarket self-checkouts

07:02 23/10/2022

The Brussels commune of Molenbeek will not to go through with its plans to add an extra tax for supermarkets that use self-checkouts, after it was struck down by the Brussels region.

The municipality believed that such a tax was justified because self-checkouts eliminate jobs, force customers to perform duties normally executed by paid staff, and reduce chances for socialisation for some of society’s more vulnerable people, such as the elderly or disabled.

Molenbeek had planned to tax €5,600 per machine within its commune, but Brussels minister for local government Bernard Clerfayt (DéFI) annulled the regulation, according to his office.

Numerous people had chimed in on the measure, both in support and in opposition.

After it was introduced, Clerfayt suspended it in August saying he disagreed that automatic cash registers “would contribute to local dehumanisation in the employment sector because customers retain the choice of going to traditional cash registers if they wish to have human contact”.

Clerfayt also said that such machines still require control and interaction from a traditional cashier, which made the devices less of a threat to job security than others alleged.

The minister also argued that the tax goes directly against a broader, regional policy aimed at promoting digitalisation in Brussels.

After the suspension, Molenbeek submitted a new measure that Clerfayt called “similar in every respect”, emphasising that he had not changed his mind in terms of “believing that it risks harming economic development”.

“We have not seen a drop in employment in the shops since the installation of self-scanners,” a statement from his office reads.

“It is a tool that saves time for customers and allows companies to remain competitive on the market.”

Taxing certain uses of automation is not entirely off the table, however. Further discussions within government and consultation with affected companies is planned.

But for now, Molenbeek’s tax on self-checkouts will not come to fruition.

“The Molenbeek initiative would have led to fiscal disparities with considerable impacts on economic development,” Clerfayt said.

Written by Helen Lyons