Christmas shopping with prices in mind: So go to Lidl. But not in Brussels on Friday, and probably not on Saturday either. “Single women in Brussels in particular are suffering from an increased workload,” says trade unionist Denise Agbaba after the surprise support for the strike, which began on a small scale.
Behind the glass entrance door of the Lidl complex in Evere, the largest in the country, trade union representatives Adnan Najjar (ACLVB), Denise Agbaba and Joel van Houtteghem (BBTK), express themselves in sign language every few seconds. Customers arrive throughout the afternoon, usually with an empty shopping cart, waiting for the electronic eye. But the glass door remains closed on what should be one of the busiest days of the year. Some people react with despair. “Should we go to Delhaize or what? Then Christmas will be twice as expensive.”
The strike began in the morning after a call from the French-speaking Christian Union CNE. “We found it strange, because these are not at all the signals we received from our social partners,” Lidl spokeswoman Isabelle Colbrandt said on Friday afternoon. “It's an isolated act. In Flanders you don't notice it at all.
According to Lidl, the action was limited to seven to eight branches mainly in Walloon out of a total of 311 branches nationwide, where there was a strike or the entrance was blocked by trade union delegations. But that was the situation until 2pm on Friday. An hour after the late shift began at 1 p.m., employees at seventeen to eighteen branches in Brussels followed the call, which was now also supported by the socialist BBTK and the liberal ACLVB.
In Iver, but also in branches in Anderlecht, Molenbeek, Schaerbeek, Ixelles, Sint-Agatha-Berchem and Forest, it seems that whole rows of stuffed turkeys and snacks will be absent from the Christmas holidays. You don't want to think about how many animals have lived to not be eaten this weekend.
“The strikers are mainly concerned with work pressure,” says Deniz Agbaba. “This story has been going on since 2018, when there were also strikes. At that time, it already involved a new system for determining the necessary staffing levels. Lidl creates schedules based on the number of items scanned at the checkout and no longer depends on Turnover rate. This is a big difference, especially after Corona. At that time people were shopping in very large quantities. This further upset the balance between sales and the necessary staffing levels.
“Working hours have simply been abolished in many Lidl branches. In some, like Ever, this increases to two hundred hours a week. Fewer people have to do more work, and you as a customer can see that in the unopened boards on the shop floor.” Employees are no longer able to put products on shelves.
“Less than minimum wage”
According to CNE, it was recently announced at the works council that management wants to increase the student labor share from 9 to 12 percent. Isabelle Colbrandt (Lidl) disputes this figure: “This is not really our goal at all, on the contrary. In recent months, many fixed-term contracts have been converted into indefinite-term contracts. We will never increase the share of student labor without consulting partners.” Social. We are really surprised, because we are in constant dialogue. We think this is a very unfortunate moment. In recent days, a lot of energy has been put into filling all our stores well.
Behind the glass gate in Evere, Joelle van Houttegem (BBTK) can only agree that this is unfortunate. “But it can't continue like this,” she says.
According to Deniz Agbaba (BBTK), Lidl is quiet Race to the bottom Which is reflected in increased absenteeism, stress, and physical complaints. “People come to work with heavy hearts,” she says. “People simply cannot complete their daily tasks. What you also see are a lot of unnecessarily complex part-time contracts. More than nine hundred people have a contract with Lidl for 24 hours a week and would very much like to work full-time, meaning 32 hours. Usually not “This issue is being addressed, but then the gaps in the schedules are filled by students. They still earn less than the minimum wage.”
Lidl employs 11,000 people, and according to unions, work schedules are distributed through variable contracts. “This means people only know when they have to work three weeks in advance,” says Agbaba. “At Lidl, timetables are constantly changing. Your rest day always falls on a different day. People can't organize themselves to take on another part-time job.
According to the unionist, it is no coincidence that there is a fairly huge strike, especially in Brussels, and it may happen again on Saturday. In Brussels, six out of ten families are single-parent families, which in practice usually means that a very large number of single women work in Lidl branches in Brussels. Many of them also have to organize care for their children between changing hours. “The women who work at Lidl live alone in Brussels,” says Agbaba. “They are the biggest victims of these unstable contracts. At a certain point they feel that things cannot continue like this.”
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