Just 21 Delhaize supermarkets remain closed this Friday, the lowest number since the Belgian chain announced its plans to sell all of its remaining integrated supermarkets to franchisers. Does this really mean that a solution is close?
In short: no. If anything, both parties are digging their heels in. The retailer has called in bailiffs to ensure that those willing to work, are not held back by the unions. In return, two unions have filed complaints against the retailer – and even individual directors – so a solution seems further away than ever.
The bailiffs are one major reason that ever more stores are opening again, along with the simple fact that striking is expensive: a striker’s fee is substantially lower than a full wage, and Delhaize now has threatened to calculate other benefits ‘pro rata’ (as in, discounting days on strike). Another provocation, the unions think.
After more than five weeks of strike action, just 21 supermarkets are still closed due to strike action – the lowest since management announced its plans to divest its integrated supermarkets on 7 March. However, the unions have been saying that as a sustained strike is impossible, they would focus their industrial action on days that would hurt the retailer most: it is quite possible that tomorrow (Saturday) will see a sudden stop to the decrease in closed supermarkets.
Moreover, the unions have announced a national day of action for the entire retail sector on Monday 17 April, at the start of sectorwide negotiations. On the other hand, labour minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne has appointed a mediator to take away (some of) the tensions: a first reconciliation meeting with him will take place next Tuesday.
The growing number of open stores does mean, however that Delhaize is now able to restart its click and collect service, which had been suspended since 7 March. This comes on top of the chain’s offer of home delivery, which has been free of charge since the strikes started and forced the click and collect service to temporarily stop.
What is still not delivered, is a pathway to a long-term solution. The retailer sticks to its guns saying that it has no option but to turn all its integrated supermarkets into franchise stores, and Dutch owner Ahold Delhaize did not even waste one word on it in this week’s shareholder meeting. It may also find courage in the fact that the unions are – ironically – becoming less and less united: while the Christian-inspired ACV and its liberal counterpart seem to make some room for an agreement on better working conditions in the soon-to-be franchised stores, the socialist union refuses to make any concessions so far.