The Clash of the Titans

By Corneel Maes

Carrefour is hitting the front page of all Belgian newspapers like mad today: local Management is set to announce quite a hefty restructuring to the works council, probably carving out some 20 supermarkets and causing job losses for up to 1 out of 3 people. The unions had already seen the dark cloud hanging over the company and pre-empted today’s announcement by … blocking one of Carrefour’s main distribution centers. They’re playing hard ball – following the example of AB InBev’s unions who succeeded in referring another major restructuring plan straight to the shredder machine only a couple of weeks ago. Carrefour unions must have thought: “What a great victory that was! We can do it too!” A very worrying evolution. Especially in a country that has historically been thriving on stable, constructive social relationships for building shareholder value, customer loyalty and employee engagement. In today’s economic reality, employer/union relationships have completely diluted from what they used to be, say just one decade ago. The “constructive collaboration” has been swapped for “angry confrontation”. How come? The economic crisis has increased and emphasized the pace of an evolution that was kicked off when the decision centers in most Belgian companies moved abroad. Belgo-Belgian works councils need to sit around the table now with senior managers that look at the business with a broader view, an open mind and an international background and experience. They talk a different kind of language. Unfortunately the Belgian unions have missed out on that evolution as they kept holding on to their arguments “for old times’ sake”. It’s worrying, as it pollutes the whole socio-economic climate in our country , and our chances to move out of the crisis by rebuilding a strong entrepreneurial environment. Constructive dialogue is turning into the clash of the titans. Belgian unions urgently need to rethink their license to operate. If not, more Opel Antwerp, AB InBev and Carrefour cases are bound to follow. And who will be the winners then, you think?


One Response to “The Clash of the Titans”

  • Henk Vervaeke:

    Very one-sided corporate view IMHO. Maybe corporations can also start looking at how they do business in a globalized world. Carrefour management admitting to mismanagement over a period of 10 years is mind boggling. 1672 people are losing their jobs. Now tell me how you think unions should change their approach and respond?

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