More specifically, the company is petitioning for a judicial reorganization (PGR) procedure by transfer under judicial authority. This procedure makes it possible to transfer all or part of the activities. “The board of directors of Makro Cash & Carry Belgium wants to protect the viable economic activities of the company with this step,” the company said in a statement.
Makro Cash & Carry Belgium has seventeen stores: eleven stores of catering wholesaler Metro and six branches of supermarket chain Makro. In total, about 2,000 people work there. The company, which has been struggling for years, was acquired in June by investor Bronze Properties.
“The financial difficulties facing the company pose a threat to business continuity,” it said. “The company has so far only been able to avert a state of insolvency through regular and very large capital increases, financed by former shareholder Metro AG.”
Bronze Properties says that the current structure of Makro Cash & Carry Belgium’s business activities, which are organized within one legal entity, is economically unsustainable. In recent months, various parties have shown interest in acquiring the activities of Metro, certain activities of Makro or Makro stores. But no interested party has proposed to take over the company in its entirety, stresses Bronze Properties.
Makro unions denounce ‘clean hands’ operation by former German owner
On Thursday, the trade unions at Makro Cash & Carry Belgium lashed out at the former owner of the retail chain, the German Makro AG. It sold its loss-making Belgian activities just before the summer to Bronze Properties, which in turn announced on Thursday that it has applied for a judicial reorganization for the Makro and Metro stores.
Parts of the company, which has about 2,000 employees in our country, may find a new owner, but the unions fear many layoffs. “The taxpayer will bear the financial consequences of this, because the staff will have to knock on the door of the Fund Closing Enterprises (FSO), and will not receive severance pay from the old employer,” says ACV Puls, who finds that “outrageous”. “Metro AG remains out of sight, because they are no longer a shareholder. They therefore no longer have any responsibility towards the staff and their share price will certainly not suffer from today’s announcement.”
The BBTK, through secretary Jan Meeuwens, also has reservations about this. “What Metro AG did was legal, but I have serious questions about it. This looks like a ‘Clean Hands Operation’”. Meeuwens points out that the buyer, Bronze Properties, does nothing more than take over sick companies, of which the healthy parts are then sold and the rest go bankrupt. He does not even rule out the possibility that the German parent company will again show interest in a -profitable- part of its former Belgian subsidiary.
BBTK will consult its supporters at Makro Cash & Carry next week, and expects a lot of worried questions from the staff. “We also question the image that the management paints that there are already many interested parties. And we are very concerned about the parts that will not be sold in the end.”
Both ACV Puls and BBTK expect that potential buyers will mainly show interest in Metro’s eleven catering stores, which are profitable globally. The six Makro stores are loss-making. ACV Puls believes that there will also be interest in the do-it-yourself department, the Work Centers. “But for the staff, in practice it means another six months of absolute uncertainty.” Employees who cannot go to a new employer will eventually end up in bankruptcy and have to knock on the door of the FSO, where they will receive up to 25,000 euros in compensation. “Many employees have been in service for thirty or forty years, Metro AG would have been perfectly able to pay a regular severance payment, instead of the taxpayer (FSO, ed.)”, criticizes Kristel Van Damme of ACV Puls.
Jan Meeuwens also fears “cherry picking” when taking over staff. “People who are older and therefore more expensive, protected personnel,… are not at risk of being taken over. They also have a harder time finding a new job.”
News of the judicial reorganization request did not lead to strikes on Thursday. ACV Puls, through trade union representative Johan Van Loon, says it makes little sense to strike because it is now the court’s turn, although he does not rule out spontaneous actions in the coming weeks. At the BBTK, people first want to consult the supporters before making statements about possible strikes. “But I don’t rule them out a priori,” says Meeuwens.
It remains to be seen whether the Antwerp company court will approve the petition for judicial reorganization. That petition was submitted by the management on Thursday, the judge then has fourteen days to make a decision. According to ACV trade union representative Van Loon, the advantage of this procedure is that employment is given an important role. “A lower offer that guarantees more jobs can be considered by the judge.” The trade unions also have the right to speak and can request access to the file. “We will therefore make use of this,” says Van Loon.