On 10 January 2010, AB InBev management announced its intention to cut 10% of its remaining 8,000 workforce in Western Europe blaming declining beer consumption and a need to be “slimmer and more flexible”.
The measure would translate into 263 job losses in Belgium (out of 2,700), 386 in Germany (out of 3,000) and into yet unspecified layoffs in France, the Netherlands and Britain. The company also plans to shut its Luxembourg brewery and a distribution centre in Brussels.
AB InBev workers in Belgium and their unions unanimously rejected management’s plans and have been fighting for these jobs. Worker pickets have blocked the Jupiler and Leuven breweries since January 8 preventing trucks from accessing and exiting the plant premises. On the day of the announcement, a group of workers at the Jupiler brewery kept 10 managers in a prolonged negotiating session for 11 hours demanding to speak to head office representatives and asking that the job cuts are called off before agreeing to end the meeting after 2am the following day.
A union delegation of 40 workers went to the castle home of Philippe de Spoelberch, one of the longest standing Interbrew shareholders asking that he pressure AB Inbev management to withdraw the job cuts decision.
AB InBev obtained a favourable court order to break the blockade but it choose not to enforce it given the already tense situation. As a result of effective picketing and against the background of a threatened national strike, Stella Artois, Jupiler and Hoegaarden disappeared from pubs and store shelves.
After failed mediation facilitated by the Belgian Government on 19 January, a third attempt succeeded yesterday 21 January. The agreement reached among AB InBev, the Belgian unions and the Government’s mediators withdraws the current restructuring plan, states that strikers will receive their salary for the 21-22 January and sets a framework for meaningful consultation on an industrial plan for AB InBev in Belgium. Pending worker approval of the agreement, pickets should be lifted during the afternoon of January 22. A major victory for the Belgian AB InBev unions but not yet the end of the tunnel. “We won a battle but not yet the war” says Luc Gysemberg from the CSC union.
AB Inbev workers in Europe are an endangered species.
In November 2009, AB InBev sold 11 breweries in Eastern Europe – a group now renamed “StarBev” – to CVC Capital Partners private equity Group for $2,231million.
AB InBev was born from the 2008 acquisition of US-brewer Anheuser-Busch by Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate InBev. The global brewer makes some of the world’s best-selling beers including Stella Artois, Budweiser, Leffe, Jupiler and Hoegaarden.
The US market currently generates about 40% of the Ab InBev’s turnover. AB InBev also owns Llabatt’s breweries of Canada.