Brewery protests threaten beer supplies

By Calvin Palmer

Belgium is facing a crisis. Shops are running out of Stella Artois as Anheuser-Busch InBev workers blockade breweries in protest over planned job cuts.

Entrances to the Leuven, Hoegaarden and Jupille breweries were blocked after the world’s largest brewer announced last week that it planned to cut 236 jobs out of its 2,700 Belgian workforce.

The company said today that production and deliveries were being hampered it might have to lay off staff because of the action by workers.

The job cuts in Belgium are part of the company’s plan to cut its workforce in Western Europe by 10 percent in the face of a drop in beer consumption.

The company said the cuts are necessary because beer consumption has fallen by about 20pc in Belgium since 2000.

InBev Belgium has offered to meet with union representatives but the unions are only willing to resume talks with management if the job cuts are withdrawn.

The company has the legal right to break the blockades by force but the unions say such a move would trigger a strike by all AB InBev’s workers in the Belgium.

Staff can go into the breweries but the blockade at the gates means production has all but ground to halt because of the difficulty of getting supplies in.

In the meantime, shops and supermarkets are beginning to run out of the Stella Artois, Leffe and Jupiler.

Anheuser-Busch InBev plans to cut jobs in Germany, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The company has refused to say how many jobs will go in Britain.

The company sold 5.6 percent less of its beer in the region on a like-for-like basis in the first nine months of 2009, part of a general downward trend exacerbated by the economic crisis.

Anheuser-Busch InBev was created in 2008 when InBev bought the U.S. maker of Budweiser to become the world’s biggest brewery.

[Based on reports by Reuters and The Daily Telegraph.]

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