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Shopping centre staff face legal action for refusing to work past 20.00

09:30 09/07/2024

Sales assistants at a shopping centre in Liège are being taken to court by management for closing at 20.00 and refusing to work an hour later until 21.00 on Fridays.

A labour dispute between the workers and management at Médiacité has been raging for more than a year.

Unions cite labour inspectorate rules that prohibit night work (considered to be work that takes place between 20.00 and 6:00) for their sector, while shopping centre management group CBRE insists the shops must remain "accessible" until 21.00 on Fridays.

CBRE said the contract between the shopkeepers’ association and the shopping centre management stipulates this requirement.

But not willing to break labour inspectorate rules, staff have been closing the store at 20.00 and standing at the shop entrance to explain the situation to customers.

The labour inspectorate also sent stern reminders to Médiacité management of the rules regarding night work. A letter from April 2024 warned management that “unless there is a specific derogation, it is forbidden to employ staff on night work”.

Nevertheless, management had bailiffs and police summoned to stores in response to the 20.00 closings and are demanding several shop assistants appear before the Court of First Instance.

“They're going at it hard,” says Jean-François Neven, a lawyer for the workers.

Neven says that apart from it being illegal to ask staff to work past 20:00, the employees concerned are predominantly women, most of whom have children and some of whom are single mothers – none of them interested in sacrificing work-life balance for marginally more pay.

“[Last] Friday evening, a bailiff came accompanied by the police and rudely shouted at the shop assistants, telling them they had no right to close the shop at 20.00 and threatening them with a €1,000 fine if they did it again,” unionist Julien Dejon said.

“Most of the assistants were very young girls who were simply employees of a multinational and who worked the hours given to them by their employer.”

Nevens also explained that management already obtained an initial order from a judge to prevent "blockades" during the festive season.

“It intends to obtain a new order for a period of one year – this is unprecedented, as it is a particularly long period for this type of order,” said Nevens.

“This time there will be a real debate. The workers will be able to be heard.”

The hearing is scheduled for mid-July.

Written by Helen Lyons