Social unrest now also reaches Ahold Delhaize

After strikes broke out earlier this year in Belgium at Lidl, Aldi and Carrefour Groupe Mestdagh, some Delhaize and Albert Heijn stores also remained closed on Monday. The high workload and the impact of corona lead to tensions.


Temporary workers

During the national day of action of the trade unions against the wage norm, last Monday, activists of the trade union ACV Puls also kept three Antwerp supermarkets closed. This concerned two Delhaize branches (Antwerp Hippodrome and Wilrijk) and one Albert Heijn branch (on Karel Oomsstraat, above which the retailer's Belgian headquarters is located).

At Albert Heijn, the trade unions are particularly critical of the use of temporary agency workers and students on the shop floor. Some temporary employees have been working full-time for the retailer for years and even earn more than the permanent staff. After a conciliation meeting, the management promised to adjust the personnel policy.


New work organisation

At Delhaize, the dissatisfaction mainly relates to the new work organisation that the supermarket chain introduced in the stores three years ago. Greater flexibility on the shop floor was the objective of that reform, but according to the trade unions, the new structure only works when there are enough people.

The fourth corona wave is currently hampering work in the stores. Especially now that there is a lot of absenteeism due to infections and quarantines, the work pressure for the remaining staff is untenable. Moreover, employees sometimes have to deal with aggressive behaviour from customers, says Kristel Van Damme of ACV Puls in newspaper De Standaard. In the run-up to the end-of-year period, it gets busier in the stores, while there are hardly any precautionary measures in place, apart from the mouth mask obligation.


Tensions rise everywhere

The unrest at Ahold Delhaize is not entirely unexpected: tensions are rising throughout the retail sector. Supermarket chains are trying to cushion the pressure on margins with efficiency gains on the shop floor, but frontline staff are at their wits' end after more than a year and a half of the pandemic. Growing absenteeism and nervousness among customers only make the situation worse.

This autumn, Carrefour already had empty shelves due to a strike at its logistics subcontractor Kuehne+Nagel. At Lidl, more than one hundred stores remained closed for four days in October, due to dissatisfaction with the workload. In the beginning of November, spontaneous strikes broke out in the Walloon branches of Aldi, also in protest against the work pressure. Stores of Carrefour franchisee Groupe Mestdagh remained closed due to a conflict about high work pressure and an excess of temporary contracts. Last week, a spontaneous strike broke out at Makro in Lodelinsart, also due to staff shortages. It will be an difficult end of year week for food retailers.