Why did workers at Monaco’s largest supermarket stage a strike?

Monaco's Trade Union / Léna Hanns

Job cuts, extra pressure and extended working hours… employees at the Carrefour supermarket in Monaco have had enough! Year on year their working conditions get worse, but with the extra strain of working during a pandemic, Carrefour staff decided to join in on the strike action in France last weekend.

Waving flags bearing the colours of their trade union, around 60 employees gathered at Fontvieille port, fists raised to the sky, in the hopes of gaining a 1000 euro bonus for their efforts as key workers serving the Monégasque community during the pandemic. It was not just in Monaco that strike action broke out, but all over France, as Carrefour employees took to the streets, making a stand against their deteriorating working conditions. Providing such exceptional service to customers since the pandemic began has even resulted in a higher turnover for the company, adding to employees frustration as they have received no share of the greater financial gains. In 2020, Carrefour’s global turnover increased by 7.8%, which is the equivalent of over 78 billion euros. Such an increase has not been seen for 20 years!

We’ve just gone through a very difficult and tiring year

What do they want? A 1000€ bonus

“We’ve just gone through a very difficult and tiring year,” explains Alexandra, the union representative of the Carrefour in Monaco, who has been working for the supermarket for about 15 years. “We hope that in the end our management will grant us this bonus for our efforts during this worrying time and for our contribution to this record turnover.” Whilst it is true that the company did give its employees a bonus at the very start of the pandemic, according to Alexandra, this was really just a way of encouraging staff to come to work during a time of incredible panic. “It was like dangling a carrot,” concludes the union representative.

Like many employees, Alexandra became ill with Covid-19 a few months ago and has also been informed twice that she has been a close contact of someone with the virus. “Throughout the whole of December, the shop was heaving with people… customers were shoulder to shoulder and you couldn’t even get down certain aisles. Even when the number of customers allowed in at once was limited, and those rules were respected, people still ended up crowded in the same place, such as in the fresh produce or fruit and veg aisles. Other aisles were then left completely empty, for example the one selling crockery.” At the beginning of January, the shop became a bit of a hotspot for the virus and several employees were forced to stay at home. “Every time, I lost three days of unpaid holidays as well as my monthly attendance bonus, so almost four days’ pay.”

We walked almost 30 km a day

Supermarket workers are feeling too much pressure

Tendonitis, back pain and depression… employees’ physical and mental well-being both began to suffer as a result of the pressure they were under at work, particularly due to the fact that job cuts over the past few years have resulted in a much smaller workforce. “We were always being told to work faster,” notes Alexandra. “I really thought I was going to end up in a wheelchair,” reveals another Carrefour employee, who suffers from serious knee problems and was recently moved to the tills, having previously worked on an understaffed aisle. “We worked out our step count: we walked more than 30km a day!”

Last Saturday, this employee went on strike for the first time. “This is not something I’ve ever done, but our working conditions pushed me to join a trade union a few months ago.” He went on to add how “to them, we are just a number… our management has even stopped our free coffee on Sundays!” Faced with the pandemic, Covid-19 is adding to his worries: “I suffer with heart problems and my wife is severely asthmatic. I’m scared I’ll give her the virus.”

>> READ ALSO: 2020: a dark year for Monaco’s economy