Migros refutes union complaints

Related tags Migros Retailing

Union members are picketing some 200 or so Migros supermarkets
across Switzerland today to protest against poor working
conditions. Not surprisingly, the co-operative retailer has refuted
the claims.

According to the unions, Migros offers its employees some of the lowest salaries and poorest working conditions in the Swiss retail sector. It is also said to be anti-union.

But the co-op was vehement in its denials of these accusations. "In the last four years alone, Migros has raised salaries by 10 per cent, a total increase in salary payments of SF400 million,"​ the company said in a statement.

The company said that it also offered a range of additional benefits to its employees - pension, maternity leave, insurance, etc. - which were better than the majority of those elsewhere in the retail sector.

As far as working conditions are concerned, the company said that it had recently agreed a new workers' contract with all the unions, and that they had all agreed that the contract was "ahead of its time"​ and "exemplary"​. Migros said that after consultation with the unions, the contract had been modified to take account of the demands of numerous interested parties, in particular the company's female employees.

"Migros is a healthy company which offers its employees excellent job security. Over the last few years, we have created thousands of jobs, and each year we train more than 2,400 people in 34 different professions,"​ the statement said.

As for its relations with the unions, Migros explained that its decision in August last last year to temporarily break its links with two unions was motivated solely by their desire to merge, and that it ahd always said it was more than willing to begin negotiations with the merged group at a future date. The company said that a meeting between Migros and the newly created union had been fixed for March, at which time a new agreement was hoped to be reached.

The unions also claim that Migros has restricted its employees' rights to union membership, a suggestion which again was vehemently rejected by the retailer. "All of Migros' employees are completely free to decide if and how they wish to take union membership,"​ the statement said. The company added that only around 3 per cent of its workers were union members.

"There is no other Swiss company which gives its workers as big a say in the running of the company as Migros."

Internet portal launched​ On a lighter note, Migros has this week launched its new Internet shopping portal in partnership with e-commerce specialist LeShop.ch. The co-operative group first announced​ the link up last September, and since then has been working with its new partner to combine the operations of their two online businesses.

The two companies' portals, Migros-shop.ch​ and LeShop.ch​, now both lead to the same site, which they claim is biggest online supermarket in Switzerland. As well as Migros' traditional wide range of own label products, the company's shoppers will now be able to find a broad spectrum of branded goods as well, a total of more than 6,000 items.

The site does not just offer packaged groceries, however - everything from fresh meat and fruit to beauty products and baby food can be bought online, for delivery the next day.

Christian Wanner, director general of LeShop.ch, is convinced that online supermarkets have a bright future ahead of them. "Turnover for 2004 will be around SF25-30 million, roughly the same as a large supermarket. Compared to the developments in other European countries, the Swiss online shopping sector is largely underdeveloped.

"In the UK, for example, online sales account for around 1 per cent of total grocery turnover - the equivalent of SF1.2 billion. In Switzerland, the share is ten times lower at just 0.1 per cent."

Urs Riedener, head of marketing at Migros, added: "The Swiss retail market is worth SF36 billion a year, so if online sales accounted for even just 1 per cent, that would give a figure of SF360 million. If the Swiss market develops at the same pace as it has elsewhere in Europe, Migros will be pole position thanks to the link with LeShop.ch."

All that remains now is to turn a profit - although LeShop.ch said it did not expect to do so until its sales reached around SF50 million, which would be sometime in 2006, nearly 10 years after it first started doing business.

Migros' online business posted sales of SF6 million in 2002, while LeShop managed sales of SF13 million.

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