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Belgium: There has never been such a strike at Lidl

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More reports on the ongoing strike at Lidl across Belgium taken from the website fr.socialism.be from 29th April 2018.

Lidl staff stand up against unbearable pressure at work

 

Regular customers can see it every time they visit: the workload is extremely high at Lidl, the staff is very little respected and everything must be the cheapest possible. The problem is common to the whole sector, which has been the subject of negotiations between unions and employers for many years already. With little effect so far: the pace and pressure at work keeps increasing. If we can not hold on, it’s the way out. Competition is intensifying as well as the search for profits by shareholders. These profits are not lacking: Lidl realized an overall profit of 1.5 billion euros in 2015.

By a sector delegate

On April 7, a Lidl store in Oostkamp was shut down for half a day because of the pressure at work. Management has tried to limit the situation to an isolated case. We even laughed with the workload. But some had been engaged. Management promised to reach a negotiated solution, but when another unsuccessful negotiation ended on April 25, a spontaneous wave of strikes began. The staff decided to put pressure on management to find solutions.

The initiative was taken by the grassroots, without an appeal being launched by the unions. The strike spread at high speed, confirming the extent to which the problem of workload is widespread throughout the chain. The staff has enough.

Did management understand the message? It’s debatable. Big boss Dieter Schwarz is the 52nd richest man in the world with $ 20.9 billion in assets, but that’s still not enough for him. This was not offset by a human attitude towards his staff.

During the negotiations, the board proposed that each store be able to deploy an additional 42 hours of work a week, an additional full-time employee. But management wanted to limit this to six months in order to find other solutions in the meantime. Given this short period and the many unfulfilled promises in the past, SETCa did not accept the proposal.

Increasing work pressure is causing problems in a growing number of companies. This drives the workers into action. Think of last year’s actions at Volvo Cars and Volvo Trucks. When unions put the issue on the table, employers do not want to do anything. The government talks a lot about “feasible work,” but its policy makes it easier for employers to make our work impossible. This question will come back more and more often: the increase in workload is a way to increase shareholder profits.

One solution to the problem would, of course, be the recruitment of additional permanent staff so that the work can be distributed. A reduction in working hours to 30 hours per week with salary maintenance and additional recruitment (where current 30-hour contracts would automatically be converted to full-time contracts with associated salaries) is also part of the solution. We must organize the struggle and discuss the demands and tactics needed within the unions and with our colleagues to win victories.

 

[Interview] “There has never been such a strike at Lidl”

 

This Saturday was the fourth day of strike in Lidl. The previous day’s negotiations resulted in a management proposal rejected by SETCa / BBTK. The other two unions want to defend the proposal. Yesterday, more than 100 stores still had closed doors. Among the staff, anger has been raging for some time now. We discussed it yesterday with a local delegate from Lidl in Antwerp.

Interview conducted by Luc (Antwerp)

The day before yesterday, the negotiations failed. What is the situation today ?

“Right now, we are going around all the stores to inform our colleagues. With over 100 stores closed today, it is clear that we will continue. Negotiations are blocked on our request for 42 extra hours a week to be allocated immediately to each store, which is an urgent measure. Management only wants to authorize it for a temporary six-month period and, in the meantime, begin negotiations on a new collective labor agreement (CLC). Without new CTC after 6 months, the extra 42 hours will be lost and we will meet again with nothing. We want these 42 hours per store / week to be permanent. Then, the pressure to conclude a healthy collective labor agreement will be the responsibility of the management, not the unions. In the worst case, we will always have those 42 hours. ”

Lidl’s spokesman said he was “bitter” following the rejection of the deal. He believes the agreement was good and that he even understood more than the unions were asking for.

“They made a lot of promises but, with promises, we are nowhere. Lidl has already promised so much to cope with the pressure of work, but nothing ever happens. Last year, for example, the company sent an e-mail to all employees telling them that after consultations with the unions, it became clear that the workload was a problem and that it would be resolved. Nothing was done. In fact, they promise us things for two years. I have a whole record full of action points and management plans to cope with the workload. But nothing has been done yet. ”

How did the strike start? It seems to have developed largely spontaneously?

“A few weeks ago, a strike broke out in an Oostkamp store after the dismissal of a sales manager. The problem of the workload was also asked. The CSC issued a strike notice for the entire Lidl group. Consultations took place last Wednesday, but once again, the management has not gone further than promises to tackle the workload. To top it off, the management also wanted to talk about extending opening and opening hours on Sunday.

“At that time, a number of stores went on strike almost immediately. Some stores were well prepared and went on strike immediately after the consultation. Staff from many other sites joined the movement spontaneously. It is also the strength of the strike. We have seen where the unions are more present, but in many places, the strike started spontaneously from the bottom up, without the union delegation having much control over it.

“In the Antwerp region where I work, it’s sometimes more difficult because of the rotation and the composition of the staff. Sometimes I have to start by explaining what a union is. But I also get calls from colleagues who ask me if they can close their branch. Considering that the directors of the subsidiary company and the management spread a lot of lies and that threats of sanctions exist, one realizes that this wave of strikes is really strong.

“This strike is already historic. Never before had Lidl gone on strike on such a scale. In many stores, colleagues spontaneously took the initiative to join the strike movement. However, there is a lot of pressure from the management and directors of the subsidiary. Locally, there are threats of dismissal, relocation, etc. Yesterday, in some subsidiaries, it was said that we should not go on strike because negotiations were in progress. This has been officially contradicted, but it is clear that there is a strategy behind these allegations. For many colleagues, it’s not easy to oppose their direction, but they do. ”

What are the next steps ?

“At the moment, it’s rather chaotic. Today, we inform as many colleagues as possible about the state of play. Some confusion exists and sometimes doubts, because the union leaders are not of the same opinion. Some people think that it would be better to accept the proposal of management because it is something concrete to have and that otherwise we run the risk of finding ourselves empty handed. At the same time, the realization that this is not a real solution is growing.

“The challenge now is, first and foremost, to make Monday a great day of action where as many stores as possible will remain closed. Not all stores may be on strike, but the actions will expand. ”

Competition in the distribution sector is fierce. Late last year, there was the announcement of a restructuring at Carrefour, and this was the case at Delhaize. How do you situate this problem in its context?

“Yes, Lidl wants to compete with Delhaize, Carrefour, …. Lidl has gone from a hard discounter to stores with a wider range: with brands, its own bakery, a larger fresh aisle … Everything requires more time, but we have to do it all with the same amount of colleagues, or even less. We must work more and more intensively to receive less money.

“At the moment, Aldi is experiencing strong growth. There is a good chance that Lidl will be caught or exceeded in the contest. In this way, we are dealing with an infernal spiral where the pressure keeps increasing on our shoulders to protect the profits. It is important to deal with it.

I imagine government measures like the Peeters Act are not particularly helpful either.

“We are already working extremely flexibly. A large part of the measures introduced by Peters had already been in force for some time. A particular problem for us is the extension of flexible jobs to trade and the facilitation of night work for e-commerce. Electronic commerce is currently very limited at Lidl, but it can have a huge impact on our working conditions. Not to mention pensions. Almost no one at Lidl has a full-time contract. The consequences for our pensions will be disastrous if the government’s projects are actually implemented.

How do you think progress can be made?

“First of all, it’s important that we win this battle and, in the short term, win those 42 hours permanently. This will only be possible if we are able to extend the shares on Monday. In fact, I had hoped that other brands joined the fight, but this is unfortunately not the case. But if we want to thwart the current competition in the retail sector, this will be the way forward and we need to extend the fight to the whole sector. “

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Solidarity with the Belgian Lidl Strike

 

lidl strike solidarity

Workers in Lidl in Belgium have been taking strike action since Tuesday against understaffing, with action growing across the country.

Reports from the company itself state that almost 50%, 147 our of 302 stores were closed on Friday 27th April.

Management has already conceded an extra 42 staffing hours per store for six months, but the strike is continuing as workers want the additional staffing to be permanent.

The strike wave is set to continue on Monday and we will carry further reports.

In the meantime we encourage all of our supporters to take solidarity selfies with the above poster and share on social media  and tag #lidl @UsdawActivist

Activist 65

December 31, 2016 Leave a comment

Includes article on Boxing Day opening, Weetabix strike, Lidl’s ‘living wage’ and M&S premium pay cuts

Tesco’s financial fiddling

November 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Eight executives suspended and the chairman resigned, whilst Tesco shares have also dropped by 10%. Moody’s, a ratings agency has also downgraded Tesco’s credit rating and now they are being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office – this is the toll so far inflicted by the over-stating of profits over the last few years by senior figures at Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer. The report released by Deloitte’s found that £263m had been overstated this financial year, with more in previous years. Executives had been fiddling its figures by paying suppliers late and taking new goods on credit.

Already facing trying to finance a plan to aim to recover retail sales, these latest revelations will put even more pressure on Tesco’s new CEO Dave Lewis. An issue of shares to raise the funding for this seems ruled out given the drop in share value and that Tesco’s market valuation is slightly less than its total outstanding debt to bondholders on £13.95bn (although this is returned over a period of time).

It’s increasingly likely that Tesco will be forced to sell some of it’s assets, including the stake in the Harris + Hoole coffee chain or Dunnhumby who created the Tesco clubcard, whilst potentially floating is Asian business or Tesco bank separately from the main company. Tesco also owns 310 sites that were purchased for out of city stores, but would be reluctant to sell that given the possibility of competitors opening on those sites, as part of a total £20bn in property assets.

Tesco profits for the last six months have dropped by 91% to £112. As one Tesco investor was quoted in an article, which had expected Tesco to post profits of £909m for the last six months, said “It is a distinct possibility that they could ‘kitchen sink’ the numbers, either now or before the full-year results, so the new team has a low base to start from.” This appears to be the direction Tesco management are going in to recover from this scandal.

Will the Big Supermarkets Survive?

The woes of all the major supermarket chains, including Tesco, are a result of a number of factors. Firstly, the saturation of the supermarket sector with increasing difficulty in obtaining planning permission, but also the sheer spread of supermarkets now means new openings increasingly cut into the sales of existing stores. Retail analysts IGD now suggest the big-box retail as a whole will see sales drop by £3bn whilst online, convenience and discount stores will increase sales by £30bn.

Tesco still has a whopping 28.8% share of the UK grocery market, still far more than its nearest rival Asda with 17.3% and Sainsbury with 16.1%. Despite Aldi & Lidl’s growth, the former still trails with 4.8% and the latter has an even smaller market share. Whilst Aldi’s pre-tax profits for last year reached £260.9m, both Lidl and Adli’s profit growth was halved compared to previous years.

Not only are Aldi & Lidl starting from a much smaller base than Tesco, but their present advantage lies in the fact that they have much reduced number of staff available in stores and also stock a limited number of products. A typical Aldi has 1,350 lines (95% of which are own brand), as opposed to the 25,000 in a typical Tesco. Rather than completely replacing the big supermarket chains, they have rather eaten into sales of some of the lines stocked by the big supermarkets with shoppers heading to Aldi/Lidl first then topping-up with items at the nearest big supermarket.

Whilst there is still room for growth of this model, there is a limit to how far this can expand – especially as Aldi and Lidl run out of completely new locations to site stores. In France, Lidl has then sought to introduce more upmarket elements, including fresh bread, to make further progress but then this cuts away their competitive advantage. Whilst Aldi has recently reported that its average number of items bought is now 16.6 compared to 16.9 at Tesco, a survey by IGD showed that only 12% use the various discount stores as their main food store compared to 51% who have used them in the last month.

The Problem is Capitalism

The problem is not that Tesco will not continue to dominate the UK grocery retail market, but that it cannot generate the continually increasing profits that investors demand. For years Tesco has given out ‘industry-leading’ dividends of 15%, based on its rapid growth and dominance of the grocery retail sector. This in all likelihood will never be the same again.

This is because despite shifting their focus to online and convenience stores, where Tesco again leads the retail chains in this sector, these generally generate less profit that the equivalent investment in superstores had. As Tesco attempts to restore its profits, it will be forced to take other measures – this could mean limiting the numbers of stores open 24-hrs a day, but also is likely to see a continuation of the attacks on staff pay, terms and conditions which have taken place over the last few years.

The partnership agreement between Tesco and USDAW allowed for share issues through the ‘Save as you earn’ scheme to staff and this obviated the unions responsibility to fight for better pay for USDAW members. Many workers use the shares as a saving scheme for a rainy day, holidays or presents for the family particularly around this time of the year, the value now being somewhat less than what Tesco workers will have expected. Share issues to staff, instead of improving basic pay, have become a further shameful episode in the reign of John Hannett (general secretary) and Jeff Broome (president) of USDAW.

All this shows the limitations of food retail under capitalism. This is why socialists argue for bringing the key sectors of the economy, including the major food retailers into public ownership under democratic workers control and management. On that basis, their resources can be used to improve pay and conditions as well as invested in improving life for workers and customers, rather than squeezing all these things to maintain the shareholders dividends.