January 20, 2010 / 1:51 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 2-AB InBev shuts Belgian breweries after blockades

* AB InBev temporarily lays off Belgian brewery workers

* Unions, blockading brewery entrances, angered by move

* Next mediation attempt on Thursday

(Updates with next mediation due on Thursday)

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR), the world’s largest brewer, temporarily laid off its Belgian brewery workers, stepping up a dispute over planned job cuts that is running its local brands dry.

For the past two weeks, Belgian workers have blockaded the entrances to the company’s large plants in Leuven and Liege and for a week the smaller Hoegaarden factory in protest at AB InBev’s plan to shed 299 of its 2,700 Belgian workers.

Two mediation attempts have failed to break the deadlock. AB InBev’s Belgian unit, InBev Belgium, and unions said a third session would take place on Thursday.

Belgian drinkers, who are among the biggest consumers of beer in the world, are starting to feel the effects.

“We’re starting to face a lack of stock in many places. It had been more at wholesalers, but now it’s more at the consumer level in bars and shops,” an InBev Belgium spokeswoman said.

Supermarket chain Delhaize DELB.BR said on Wednesday its central depot had run out of InBev beers Leffe, Stella Artois and Hoegaarden, except for example in non-alcoholic form.

Carrefour (CARR.PA) said it was stocking up with more rival beers, such as Heineken’s (HEIN.AS) Maes.

InBev Belgium exports some 55 percent of its beers, with some impact in neighbouring markets.

The company said it had been unable to bring in raw materials and packaging to the breweries and that its on-site storage facilities were now completely full.

It said due to the circumstances it had to make the workers temporarily unemployed.

Unions called the move a “lock-out” and a heightening of tension given that workers willing to work would not be paid.

“They can produce ... There’s enough raw materials for at least a week,” one union official said.

AB InBev, which also makes Budweiser 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.

AB InBev shares were down 1.6 percent at 34.75 euros at 1600 GMT, compared with a 0.2 percent drop of the DJ Stoxx European food and beverage index .SX3P.

“The direct impact is small as Belgium represents only a few percent of sales, but people are talking of a strike ... It’s something that could spread elsewhere,” a Brussels-based trader said.

Belgian unions have insisted AB InBev withdraw its restructuring plan.

InBev Belgium said it had frozen the plan and added that up to 150 early retirement plans and 70 new positions would considerably lessen the impact of any job cuts. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, editing by Karen Foster and Erica Billingham)

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