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European Unions Protest Restructuring, Closures and Layoffs at Inbev's Headquarters as Belgian Workers Strike Breweries

Posted to the IUF website 31-Mar-2006

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InBev workers from across Europe rallied in Leuven, Belgium on March 28 in support of the strike called by the Belgian unions following the breakdown of official arbitration talks on March 9. Some 2,500 workers from Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg marched through Leuven behind the common banner "InBev Employees United Across Europe", chanting slogans including "The glass is empty but InBev's pockets are full", "InBevAble" and "From Biggest to Pest".The action was coordinated by the IUF's European Regional Secretariat EFFAT.

The strike has halted production at three of the four InBev Belgian breweries (Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Belle-Vue) and left the Jupille brewery running at limited capacity.

In November 2005 InBev announced the planned closures of the historic Hoegaarden and Belle-Vue breweries (read the background here). On February 24, 2006 InBev reported a 15.3 per cent increase in earnings - and announced plans to cut costs further by merging its European finance, procurement and export operations and shifting them to Hungary and the Czech Republic. The plan will eliminate 360 jobs.

Since January 2006, unions have called on InBev management to disclose critical information on individual plant performance and on the overall company strategy for the next three years, and to negotiate a common framework of minimum guarantees on future restructuring for all InBev European workers. The company has so far rejected all demands. InBev wants to avoid negotiations in order to break company-wide resistance by implementing job-destroying restructurings in phased doses. InBev workers now live in permanent insecurity.

National trade unions and the IUF addressed the crowd to show solidarity with the Belgian unions and condemn the corporate greed fuelling InBev's restructurings. Despite 2005 profits of 1.16 billion euro in 2005 and 31 million euros in bonuses to departing top executives, InBev is systematically closing profitable operations and the local breweries which built its brands. Russian and Ukrainan brewery workers from Sun Interbrew (InBev), Baltic Beverage Holding (BBH) and Heineken sent a solidarity message to demonstrators through the IUF Moscow office.

The IUF is supporting InBev's Belgian and European workers and publicizing their demands. We are calling on InBev to honor its written agreements and cease violating union rights at the Trebjesa brewery in Montenegro. Send a message to InBev's CEO Carlos Brito, Chief Financial Officer Felipe Dutra and Senior HR Manager Marc Croonen!

InBev has built its current position on broken promises to workers. UK Chief Executive Stewart Gilliland's promise to British unions in 2002 to keep the Boddingtons breweries in Manchester open was a lie (read the background here). The company is also lying about the Dubrovnik Agreement which was to have resolved the situation in Montenegro. Claims by Stefan Descheemaeker, InBev's head of operations in Western Europe, that savings on European employment will allow InBev to reinvest in boosting beer consumption in the region have little credibility - the money will go into dividends, stock buybacks and executive bonuses. InBev's current strategy is to invest in emerging markets such as Russia and China in the attempt to compete with rival Anheuser-Busch's top shareholder dividends.