More than 100 union activists and commerce workers descended on Ahold Delhaize’s shareholder meeting in Zaandam, Netherlands, this week to protest the Dutch supermarket multinational’s plans to franchise out all its 128 retail locations in Belgium.
Franchising the stores means that the 9,000 workers will likely have worse wages and conditions. Their unions will not be able to negotiate as a block with a single employer, but with multiple franchisees, with thin margins of operations. Moreover, the workers in the franchised stores would be placed under a different sectoral agreement with worse conditions than those in the directly owned stores.
Dressed in colourful costumes and chanting as shareholders entered the meeting that CEO Frans Muller was a “pocket-filler,” the protest was led by Belgian supermarket workers, members of UNI affiliates ACV-PULS, CGSLB/ACLVB, CNE and SETCA. Representatives from Dutch union FNV and UNI were there to show solidarity. Referencing the company’s logo, one banner read “Don’t throw workers to the lions.”
Here is why protesters said they were there:
Kristel Van Damme, ACV-PULS, General Coordinator for the Commerce Sector: “Franchising the store means that workers will not have union representation in the shops. For us, it is enough. We don’t want it, so we are here to tell shareholders to stop the plan and go back to owning the 128 shops in Belgium.”
Stéphane Breugelmans, CNE Coordinator for Liege: “I am here with my colleagues to show our solidarity and to express our dismay after the announcement of the franchising plan. Entire families work for Delhaize, and their lives will become even more precarious.”
Chantal Delie, Ahold Delhaize European Works Council member, member of SETCA : “The reason why we are here is a social dumping in commerce sector. Ahold Delhaize in Belgium said it will spin off these stores which means that we will be paid a lot less; we will have to work on Sundays and holidays; and we will have less benefits than we have now. That is the reason why we came to Zaandam because there is a shareholders meeting. We want shareholders to face the people on whom they are making their money. We demand Ahold Delhaize to keep the plan in closet and we want to stay as a fully-owned supermarket with the benefits that we have now. We don’t want them to sell the stores with the workers that is what they are trying to do now to make more profits.”
Fatma Bugdayci-Karatas, Union official at FNV Handels, the Netherlands: “FNV is here to support our Belgian colleagues in their fight against franchising in Belgium. The way Ahold Delhaize is going is not the right way. They must give their workers what they deserve, and they must negotiate with the Belgian colleagues. We are here to stand in international solidarity with them.”
Mathias Bolton, Head of UNI Commerce, noted: “Ahold Delhaize must listen to its workers and withdraw its plan immediately. We will keep standing in full solidarity with our affiliated unions and supporting their just fight to the end. We will stand against the erosion of standards through franchising at Ahold Delhaize and any other company that tries to shortchange its workers.”
In addition to the shareholder meeting action, the Belgian unions have been striking and taking their demands to the streets over the last several weeks.
Next week in Brussels, UNI Commerce affiliates will submit their demands to the employers’ organizations for the sector-level collective bargaining and hold another joint action titled “Stop Social Dumping in Commerce.” Ahold Delhaize workers hold a mass mobilization as part of this day of action.