AB InBev’s Jupille factory near Liège, one of the main production sites in Belgium, has been shut down since September 3 due to an outbreak of coronavirus. Nine employees tested positive for the coronavirus last week and one of them is now hospitalized in critical condition.
The infection was discovered in the site’s logistics-transport department, which employs around 100 workers in a total workforce of 750. No infections have been identified in the beer production department.
Management was slow to react
The IUF-affiliated FGTB accuses the company’s Human Resources department of having been slow to react, after the detection of the first cases last week. Patrick Rehan, from the FGTB said,: “There are people who have taken COVID-19 cases lightly. We no longer want these kind of people at the head of Human Resources (HR) or in the security station. It has dragged on too long. People were in danger. A colleague was in a coma. People are very angry.”
“The plant is at a standstill, and we do not restart until we have answers to our demands. We want capable people in HR, who can ensure the safety of workers”, said Rehan.
Two initial positive cases were detected in the last week of August and the figure has risen to nine in the last week. These positive cases represent nearly 10% of the workers in the logistics department. The workers concerned have been quarantined and a tracing was set up to verify who they were in contact with. The other members of the department were also screened and apparently all tests came back negative.
Unions are waiting for concrete and effective measures
The unions at the plant met with management on September 4. They called for concrete and effective measures. Georges Requena, from the IUF-affiliated ACV-CSC: “We are facing 9 cases of COVID-19 amongst our staff. Were there any shortcomings? Could we have done better? While we are waiting, it is important to take concrete and really effective measures. First, we asked for a general screening of logistics personnel, and, probably, as a safety measure, it would perhaps be useful and judicious to extend the testing to all staff, because other departments could have been infected”.
Patrick Rehan added: “We know that people have worked with some of the logistics workers. There is a big risk, people come across each other in the locker rooms. Maintenance goes into all departments. Yes, we have real fears “.
Since last Thursday September 3, workers have been on strike to demand healthy working conditions and the departure of officials who failed to deal with the situation. Coworkers in Jumet and Anderlecht distribution centers also walked off their jobs in solidarity with the Jupille workers. If no agreement is reached, more AB InBev workers will join this action. In the coming days, the movement could therefore grow.
In the meantime the company is trying to break the strike by having recourse to the bailiffs, appealing to external workers and putting pressure on and intimidating strikers. But Jupille workers will not stop demanding their right to safe working conditions and, if needed will broaden this conflict, politically, legally and internationally.