November 8, 2023
The unions and the retail chains cannot find an agreement on a purchasing power premium for staff. The unions are gradually turning their heads to take action during the important end-of-year period.
It is highly uncertain whether Belgian employees of retail companies receive a purchasing power premium. The federal government may give companies such a premium to their employees as compensation for the fact that the wage standard in 2023 and 2024 does not leave room for additional wages on top of the index.
In sectors such as construction, the metal industry and the white-collar sector, employers and employees have already reached an agreement, but in the retail sector both parties do not find each other. On Tuesday, the employee unions and employers’ organizations parted ways without an agreement. It is not clear whether there will be further consultations between them. The clock is ticking, because any premium must be paid no later than December 31. Consultations will take place on Friday between the workers’ unions and Comeos, the federation of retail companies.
We do not ask for premiums that put companies at risk.
Trade union ACLVB
If the unions and Comeos do not reach an agreement, there is a good chance that the chains will take strike action. In trade union circles it can be heard that workers are very willing to strike. If it comes to this, it could seriously damage the sector, because the end-of-year period is important for retail chains.
“We must succeed in reaching an agreement for our people,” says Wilson Wellens, the union representative for white-collar workers of the ACLVB union.
The unions believe the premiums proposed by Comeos are too low. The organizations also cannot find agreement on some other files. The purchasing power premium is part of broader negotiations about, among other things, end-of-year bonuses and bicycle allowances. ‘The unions also asked employers to be less precarious (temporary and part-time, ed.) contracts,” says Wellens. “But we couldn’t reach an agreement on that.”
Chains under pressure
Comeos does not wish to respond until an agreement has been reached. It is known that many retail chains have low profit margins as standard. These came under pressure due to inflation.
“We do not ask for premiums that put companies at risk,” says Dominique Roland of the ACLVB. ‘We ask for a minimum premium for the entire sector and negotiations at company level. This way we can agree on a higher premium with a company that is doing very well. The demand from our members is real. They will not receive a wage increase on top of the index for two years and see how purchasing power premiums are paid in other sectors.’
The spirit of Delhaize also haunts the purchasing power premium issue.
Trade union ACLVB
The fact that the waters between the two camps are deep also has to do with the tensions that arose at the beginning of this year after Delhaize and Intermarché announced that they would spin off their stores. Negotiations to bring the wage systems of the various supermarket chains into better balance appear to be dying an early death. “The spirit of Delhaize also haunts the purchasing power premium issue,” says Wellens.