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Delhaize strikes continue despite court upholding ban on picketing
Workers for supermarket chain Delhaize are continuing their strike efforts in spite of a court ruling in management's favour.
A Dutch-speaking court in Brussels ruled in favour of Delhaize in its dispute with trade unions, RTBF reports, meaning that the picket lines in front of some supermarkets must be lifted.
Unions have condemned the ruling, calling it an infringement on the right to strike, and say they plan to appeal the decision.
“The Delhaize workers have been dealt another blow, and this time it is the Belgian justice system that is failing them,” said Myriam Djegham, national secretary of the CNE union.
“On whose side are the authorities in our country? It’s regrettable that in 2023 Belgium is still allowing companies to break peaceful picket lines through unfair procedures.
"These procedures result in the intimidating intervention of bailiffs and police forces, depriving workers of their only leverage.”
Delhaize said it was “relieved by the court's decision” but that it remained “attached to a calm dialogue” and wanted to “continue to respect the right to strike at all times”.
Despite these assurances, talks between workers and management have gone nowhere as Delhaize refuses to budge from its position.
Employees at the grocery chain have been on strike for more than a month following an announcement to convert all shops to a franchise model, which workers fear will result in a loss of benefits and wages at a time when they say they are already struggling with staff shortages and poor working conditions.
Under independent and private ownership, Delhaize store owners would have more freedom to set pay rates, working conditions and benefits, depending on the individual running it.
“Will an independent acquirer still pay me a salary of €3,100 gross? Will all 126 staff be able to continue working here?” one worker told Bruzz.
“As a 57-year-old, where will I still find work, when people can still use cheaper job students and flexi-jobbers? Beware, this plan by Delhaize is just the beginning. Other chains will follow, and the government must intervene.”
There seems to be support for the strike from customers, many of whom are boycotting the shops that are open, in solidarity, even as Delhaize staffs them with independent contractors in order to keep them running.
“Delhaize has lost an awful lot of money with this strike,” one Brussels worker told Bruzz.
“The management did not expect the strike to last so long. Yesterday, the shop had a turnover of €13,000, compared to €100,000 on a normal day. Though compared to the billions of profit they make, that’s nothing.”
In its reaction to the court ruling against its own workers, the company’s management demanded respect for "the right to work".
“We will continue to guarantee as much as possible access to our shops for our employees who wish to work, our customers and our suppliers,” Delhaize said in a statement.
Management said it wanted to “conduct a local mediation with the strikers and thus free up access to the shops. If mediation fails, we will send a bailiff to the shop in question and he will also try to start mediation.”
Tensions between management and workers have only worsened since the announcement and subsequent strikes, including when a union representative was arrested and handcuffed earlier this week while participating in a picket line.
“We fully understand the emotion that a police intervention can generate in a context of sensitive social dialogue for the strikers,” a spokesperson for the police said in defence of the arrest.
“However, the mission of the police - that is to say the accompaniment of the bailiffs to the places where they have to serve and enforce a court decision - must be carried out in compliance with the legal prescriptions.”
The common trade union front, composed of the CNE, Setca and CGSLB unions, said the only crime committed by the arrested representative was “that of coming to support her delegates on the picket line of the shop”.
In the meantime, numerous Delhaize stores across the country - but particularly in Brussels and Wallonia - remain closed in protest.
“In addition to the eight shops in Brussels, a branch in Wallonia has also been closed,” a Delhaize spokesperson said.
“In Flanders, all shops are open. Logistics are also running normally.”