A-B InBev says it is committed to social dialogue

A-B InBev says it is committed to social dialogue

Anheuser-Busch InBev faces the possibility of worker strikes across Western Europe over planned job cuts, unless the brewer accepts demands drawn up by a coalition of trade unions.

An alliance of Europe's trade unions, including Unite in the UK, will present a list of demands to the Stella Artois brewer next week.

Union officials met yesterday (24 February) to discuss the plan, which follows A-B InBev's announcement that falling demand for beer means that it plans to cut around 10% of its workforce in Western Europe.

"We are putting together a set of demands for the management of A-B InBev in Western Europe," Simon Cox, of the European Federation of Food, Agriculture & Tourism Trade Unions, told just-drinks last night.

"This was a meeting to coordinate our European strategy going forward on this issue," he said.

Coordinated, Europe-wide strike action is a possibility, although this would be difficult to organise due to differing laws in member states and also depends heavily on A-B InBev's reaction to union demands.

From a separate source close to the situation, just-drinks understands that, in addition to curbing job cuts, the unions want more concrete assurance from A-B InBev that it is committed to investing in European beer operations.

Workers in Belgium blocked A-B InBev breweries in the country last month, in protest at the plans to cut 10% of jobs in the country.

As part of a settlement to end the blockades, A-B InBev said it would temporarily freeze its job cuts plan in Belgium so that it could spend more time discussing the matter with union officials.

When contacted by just-drinks today, a spokesperson for A-B InBev said: "In general, in the countries where an announcement was made on 7 January, the social dialogue is continuing in line with the local company and legal practices.

"We are convinced that an open and honest dialogue is the way forward and we hope that our social partners will be open to discussing the future of our operations in a constructive way, in order to find the right solutions to ensure the long-term success of our activities together."

Commenting on the decision to restructure in Western Europe, the spokesperson reiterated: "Despite our extensive efforts, the beer market continues to decline in almost all of our markets in Western Europe. Generally speaking, in addition to drinking less, consumers also drink differently."

Sluggish demand for beer across most developed markets has been exacerbated by the economic downturn and hit most major brewers' sales over the last year. Earlier this week, Carlsberg and Heineken both reported volume sales declines for 2009.

A-B InBev will report fourth quarter and full-year results next Thursday (4 March).