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Delhaize begins switch to franchise model as protests and criticisms continue

08:58 09/08/2023

After months of strikes and criticism that switching its stores to a franchise model will result in a major blow to workers’ rights and both work and social conditions, Delhaize is moving ahead with the change.

Four Delhaize shops in Brussels (Hankar, Mutsaard, Flagey and Boondael) are among the first to switch to private, independent ownership beginning this October and November.

An estimated 15 stores of the total 128 in Belgium will make the switch then, with the rest to follow later.

The announcement of the intent to move to the franchise model sparked a major social conflict that included strikes and blocades of distribution depots. Since the plans were announced in March, Delhaize shops have regularly been inaccessible due to such actions.

Unions say that with stores under private ownership by self-employed entrepreneurs, workers will see a decline in their benefits, pay and working conditions – all of which have already been on the decline for grocery store workers in general. They also warn that such a switch could spread to other sectors.

“During the transition from centrally managed supermarkets to supermarkets operated by independent operators, all employees of the supermarkets concerned will retain their employment and their current wage and working conditions in accordance with Collective Labour Agreement 32bis,” Delhaize said, notably limiting the guarantee only to the transition period.

Delhaize also promised that employees’ overtime would be automatically transferred and that they would get a one-time transitional bonus of €1,500.

“The new affiliated partners are all true entrepreneurs with passion for Delhaize, its employees and customers,” the corporation said. “They were chosen after a thorough selection and with a view to ensuring a sustainable future for each supermarket.”

A scan of the LinkedIn profiles of the various buyers reveals that 13 of them have had clear contacts with Delhaize. Some are current or former executive employees, shop managers or already owners of franchised shops, which could indicate a lack of interest from outside investors.

Over the last few days, a number of would-be buyers and franchisees have criticised the conditions of Delhaize's transformation plan.

In a letter sent to management and seen by RTBF, lawyers for franchisees and potential buyers say it will be impossible to maintain the same wage bill.

They also condemn the unbalanced terms of the takeover, in favour of Delhaize and not the franchisees.

But according to the supermarket chain, there is at least one prospective buyer for each shop currently under its own management.

“New announcements about additional supermarkets that will make the transition to standalone Delhaize supermarkets will be made at regular intervals in the coming months,” a spokesperson said.

One of the stores in Brussels that will make the change this fall is Belgium's oldest supermarket, having been around since 1957.

The workers at Delhaize Flagey are not happy about the switch and say they plan to keep up the fight against the transition, with one employee telling Bruzz: “The battle was fierce, but it is not over yet. We are going to let that transition rot. It will hurt harder. Franchisees had better think twice.”

Customers are also showing support for employees, including by shopping elsewhere in protest against the move. While all stores in Brussels are now open after previously being closed for strikes, the number of shoppers has visibily dropped.

Efforts seem to be working - Delhaize workers have been calling on customers to show solidarity and do their shopping elsewhere and the union representative said the sales figures reflect this.

“I just took another look at the July sales figures,” the representative at Flagey said. “Delhaize keeps a list every month of the shops with the most turnover, and in July we dropped from 40th to 80th place in that list.

"Surely that is solid. Customers continue to support us and our actions hit Delhaize."

Actions are not limited to Brussels, either. Workers in Nivelles closed their shop for a day and employees at Delhaize in Recogne are holding a meeting to discuss next steps. Unions announced that they would hold internal consultations on possible new actions.

Delhaize management has met with unions but refuses to back down from its plans to franchise.

Written by Helen Lyons