AB InBev is preparing to sit down this afternoon with worker representatives to resolve the crisis that was sparked two week ago by plans to cut 800 jobs across western Europe.
Under the restructuring plans, AB InBev intends to reduce the size of its 8,000-strong workforce in the region by 10 per cent to realign the business with the reality of a “structural decline” in beer consumption.
In Belgium 263 jobs are earmarked to go. This news sparked an angry reaction from workers and unions in Belgium who quickly responded by taking company managers hostage and blockading the gates at the Jupiler and Leuven breweries.
The managers were quickly released but the blockade has remained in place, and production has been reduced to a minimum as raw materials dwindle. AB InBev spokesperson Natacha Schepkens told BeverageDaily.com that this has created “out of stock” situations at retailers and bars in Belgium.
In an earlier statement AB InBev warned that: “The absence of production and delivery to clients could have serious consequences for the future of InBev Belgium.”
On Friday AB InBev won a court ruling to end a blockade at its Leuven brewery but the company has yet to enforce it. Schepkens said the company prefers to pursue a solution through social dialogue first, and is resuming talks with unions this afternoon.
Earlier talks collapsed on Thursday as union officials warned that the blockade would continue so long as plans to lay off almost 300 workers remain on the table.
AB InBev blames the planned job cuts on falling beer sales, and the general economic climate, saying the company needed to be “slimmer and more flexible”.
For the first nine months of 2009 total sales revenue declined 1.8 per cent in organic terms to $24.461bn. Weak demand was especially pronounced in western Europe, where total volumes fell 5.6 per cent.