The rise in salaries of Lidl and Mercadona puts pressure on the commerce sector in a wave of agreement negotiations

After the return of summer, months of negotiations begin to shape the future salary structure of many of the big names in the commerce sector. Some of them, like Carrefour, Alcampo, El Corte Inglés or Ikea will go hand in hand, because they are part of the same employer. Others, such as the DIA supermarket group or the German chain Aldi, have a local, provincial dialogue ahead of them, but they all have on the table what has happened in recent months with Mercadona Y Lidl who have already reported salary increases of 6.5% and 7%, respectively.

"Obviously; the companies look at each other out of the corner of their eyes, in one way or another," says Iñigo Vicente Herrero, secretary of the CCOO Services Trade Union Action area. "The Lidl agreement serves as a reference for operators in the sector," he adds. The German company has marked the step after announcing at the beginning of June that, for this year, it will raise the salary of 15,500 workers by 7%, according to its new collective agreement. Looking ahead to the coming years, the increases, to begin with, will be lower, 3.5% in 2023 and a minimum of 3% in both 2024 and 2025. However, unlike its previous agreements, it has introduced a salary review clause, based on the CPI, which can reach a salary increase of up to 19% in four years.

The other company that will look askance is Mercadona. The company of Valencian origin communicated in January a salary increase for its workforce -which exceeds 93,000 people- of 6.5%. With this movement, his base salary in the first year remains at 1,512 euros. It did so because its agreement includes a revision clause based on inflation. He signed it in 2019, valid for five years. That is, until December 31, 2023. It states that the "base salary of professional groups will be increased during the term of this agreement according to the CPI, taking as a reference the annual rate of the general CPI for the month of December published by the INE", so you will have to look at the INE statistics again for 2023.

What happened with Lidl and Mercadona is relevant because of their weight in the number of jobs and because they are two of the three largest operators in the supermarket sector by market share. The company chaired by Juan Roig accounts for 26% of the distribution market, according to data published by the consultancy Kantar Worldpanel. Behind is Carrefour, the second largest, with a share of 9.7%; and the third is Lidl, with 5.8%.

The fourth is DIA, with a 4.6% market share. The company is also in the middle of the negotiation phase, but in this case it also has a local character. "In 2020 we signed the current collective agreement with the Fetico, CCOO and UGT unions, with a general salary increase of 2.1%, in addition to other aspects," the company indicates. "Currently, we are in negotiation with the representatives of the workers, since the validity of this agreement extends until December 31, 2021 and, for the moment, we cannot advance more details," they add.

DIA signed the terms of the agreement in force for 16,000 employees in Spain in the midst of a pandemic, with different geographical conditions because, as is the case in other chains, it is an agreement with a provincial negotiation component. For example, for workers in Castellón, Palencia, Seville, Cuenca, Jaén, Ávila, Orense or Soria, among others, it agreed to a salary increase of 4.63% in 2020 and 2.19% in 2021. At the same time , for those from Asturias, Tarragona, Madrid, Girona, Alicante, Valencia or Cantabria it was 2.69% in 2020 and 2.19% in 2021.

It is not the only company that negotiates in this local area. That also happens, union sources explain, with the German group Aldi, which did not want to comment with on the situation of its employees. "Aldi does not comment on the company's industrial relations policy," it says through a spokesman. "Labor decisions are governed by objectivity and are made in compliance with current labor regulations in Spain," he says. Nor has the Consum group responded to the request for information, which is the sixth largest operator by market share, with 3.2%, according to Kantar Worldpanel.

In parallel, in that photo of large chains, 'supermarkets', hypermarkets and department stores that have the renegotiation of their agreement ahead of them from next year, are the aforementioned Carrefour, Eroski (which has a market share of 4.3 %); and Alcampo (3%). All three are part of the National Association of Large Distribution Companies (Anged). An employer's association that also includes El Corte Inglés, Apple Retail, Tendam (Cortefiel and Springfield), Ikea or Media Markt, among others. These are businesses that are not homogeneous and that, in March 2021, signed a collective agreement that was marked by the impact of the pandemic, which included a 2% salary increase for the entire two-year period and that expires this next December.

A negotiation -for which there must first be union elections- that is going to be very different, according to the different sources consulted. "The salary increase is the great workhorse of the next collective agreement," assumes Antonio Pérez, general secretary of the Fetico Independent Trade Union Confederation. "The agreed increases were made in a pandemic environment and despite commercial restrictions, salary increases were guaranteed to workers. The transition to a salary model in 2023 with a notable increase is key, as well as the speed in achieving it to impact as soon as possible on the payroll".

"That last agreement was a transition agreement," argues the secretary of the CCOO Services Trade Union Action area. "He was oriented thinking of spending the two years and that there were no traumatic measures," lists Iñigo Vicente Herrero. He reminds that workers, in a situation with inflation above 10%, are already losing purchasing power. Recovering it will be one of the premises that the union will raise in the face of the new negotiation, along with the quality of employment, the schedules and that the digital transformation does not take its toll on the workforce. Specifically, he delves into the need to include "wage review clauses, in case there is a deviation from the CPI or other indicators, taking into account the evolution of the sector, but there is no loss of purchasing power."

The person in charge of Fetico points in the direction of Mercadona and Lidl, which he assures, have done "the correct and necessary thing". And what salary increase do they propose? "It will depend on the autumn months, today with the volatility that exists in the economic situation, the requests must be adjusted to the immediate scenario, in such a way that we are neither far nor short in those requests," says Antonio Perez. "However, we already know that there are going to be increases that must alleviate and compensate for the evident loss of purchasing power, at this time I would say that we would silver an increase of 18% over four years," he anticipates. The more than 220,000 people who work in the department store sector will be aware of this approach.

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