January 19, 2010 / 6:13 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 2-AB InBev fails to end Belgian beer blockades

 * Second mediation talks fail
 * Belgian blockades have lasted nearly two weeks
 * Beer supplies running low in Belgian
 * AB InBev plans third mediation attempt on Wednesday  (Adds AB InBev comment, more from unions)
 By Philip Blenkinsop
 BRUSSELS, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR), the world’s largest beer maker, has failed to halt nearly two weeks of blockades at its Belgian breweries with the collapse of mediation talks on Tuesday.
 The Belgian workers have blocked the entrances to the company’s plants in Leuven and Liege for 13 days and a week at Hoegaarden in protest at AB InBev’s plan to cut a net 263 jobs out of its 2,700 Belgian workforce.
 The company’s management and unions failed to settle differences at conciliation talks last Thursday [ID:nN14204359] and a second attempt ended the same way on Tuesday.
 Unions have insisted the company withdraw its restructuring plan and union officials said that a deal had appeared close, but that the company had ultimately not met this key demand.
 “We don’t want constant restructuring, but some degree of certainty,” a union official said. “We will continue with the blockades and will discuss whether to intensify our action.”
 AB InBev said in a statement it planned to hold a third round of mediation talks on Wednesday. It added the possibility of up to 150 early retirement plans and 70 new positions would considerably lesson the impact of the job cuts.
 The company has secured a court order to end the blockade at Leuven but so far has chosen not to exercise it.
 InBev Belgium, which has a 57 percent share of the Belgian beer market, has said it risks running out of raw materials soon. Barrels and cases of beer have been piling up.
 Supermarket chains Delhaize DELB.BR and Carrefour (CARR.PA) said on Tuesday their depots had very low stocks of beers such as Stella Artois, Jupiler and Leffe.
 “From Wednesday we will be facing a problem,” said a Carrefour Belgium spokeswoman, adding they had plans then to increase supplies of rival beers, such as Heineken’s (HEIN.AS) Belgian pils Maes.
 Privately owned brand Primus has run nationwide adverts stressing its availability.
 AB InBev, which makes Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck’s, has said it could cut some 10 percent of its 8,000 strong workforce in western Europe due to falling beer markets.
 The company sold 5.6 percent less 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, although its profit margin increased.  (Additional reporting by Marine Hass; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Matthew Lewis)   

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