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          Blokker Belgium: strike averted, unrest remains

          Stock photo: a Blokker store

          A meeting between the new owner of Blokker, Dirk Bron, and the trade unions has not resolved much. The new owner repeated his promises and played down his past (and possible future) convictions, the trade unions promise not to strike for now but are not reassured either.


          Unrest remains

          The meeting was planned to take away some of the unrest about the credibility of the new owner and his project to rebrand the stores as Mega World discount stores - unrest that was only made worse by Bron's comments about landlords ("They have to give me six months rent-free or I leave") and employees ("I'll stamp out Blokker's DNA out of all of them, take it or leave").


          Moreover, several Dutch media reported about Bron's earlier career in retail (leaving six chains bankrupt) and alleged unlawful wrongdoings (he is already convicted on one charge and has to appear in several other cases soon). While he still plays down those other charges ("I'll just pay the fines I get", he told Belgian newspaper De Tijd), others see it differently and call him "a real cowboy who is the only one who believes in this project".


          Future in doubt

          Bron has now signed a declaration, in which he repeats his promise to keep all the stores open for at least a year - a promise that was the condition on which he was allowed to take over the 123 Belgian Blokker stores and even given a considerable sum by the previous owner in order to help him with turning around the loss-making chain. However, the unions are not at all convinced, saying that they do not know anything concrete about the new concept, nor what would happen if the chain goes bankrupt (or, according to some, when the chain goes bankrupt).


          Just two weeks ago, Bron announced he bought the entire Belgian branch of Blokker, in order to turn them into discount stores. Just days later came the promise that he would double that number of stores to up to?250 to have nationwide coverage, and yesterday Bron told Belgian business channel Kanaal Z he was offered 52?stores by a fashion chain that wanted to stop its business - however many analysts are not sure how credible that claim is.