Coca-Cola seeking excessive flexibility at Ghent plant in Belgium

Coca-Cola Enterprises which is in the midst of a major merger process with Coca-Cola Iberian Partners and Germany's Coca-Cola Erfrischungsgetränke AG announced its plans to renovate its Zwijnaarde bottling plant (Ghent, Eastern Flanders) on October 2015. The gradual refurbishment includes a 75-million-Euro investment but will lead to 122 job losses from workforce of 443 by 2018. The impact will be greatest in production where 116 of 263 jobs will be lost.  Following the loss of these 122 jobs, the company wants to bring in 20% hired labour or agency workers. Two canning lines will be closed and replaced by one high speed canning filling line. Two glass lines will also be closed and replaced by one high speed multi format glass line. The hot fill blowing line will also close.

The recent consultation meetings on the restructuring plan between the local Coca-Cola management and the IUF-affiliated FGTB-Horval and ACV/LBC-NVK included management requests for more flexibility whilst worker representatives are trying to establish a healthy and secure workplace environment for the remaining 321 employees after the investment and restructuring.

Coca-Cola Belgium management is also targeting  more flexible working conditions around compensation for rest days and for overtime and forcing workers over 45 to work on night shift contrary to the national collective bargaining agreement signed in 2001 which limits the overtime that older workers should do. The management proposes that Ghent plant workers work on the night shift until the age of 55.

Management wants to unilaterally select 17 weeks of high season work when workers in production will be forced to work for 12 weekends out of 52 in a year. Compulsory weekend work is damaging to the important work/life balance of workers. At present any extra shifts are filled in on a voluntary basis and no problems were experienced with this system. Local Coca-Cola management further proposes that overtime pay for extra weekend work will be lowered for the new hires.

Coca-Cola Enterprises expects each worker to fill in 3 different roles in production and perform in a multifunctional way. Coca-Cola's high level of flexibility is a potential threat to the rights and well-being of its workers at Ghent.

IUF affiliates will call on Coca-Cola to withdraw its unreasonable demands for labour flexibility, respect the work/life balance needs of its workforce and ensure that the existing rights and benefits of Coca-Cola workers remain accessible to all.