The Carambar factory no longer laughs

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Production at a standstill, the 'deadlocked' social dialogue, work stoppages ... a strike by the employees of the Carambar factory in Marcq-en-Baroeul (North) against a drop in wages, which they consider 'unacceptable', continues until ' Fears arise 'in the long run, a shortage of the famous caramels.

'Its hard. We have been bogged down in a conflict for several weeks,' blows André Jorisse, Secretary (FO) of the CSE, while a pallet fire burns in front of the historic factory, which has since been the only one in the world to produce the iconic one in 1954 caramelized stick. At the end of 2020, the management of 112 employees announced its plan to close the Marcq-en-Baroeul site near Lille in order to move to the neighboring town of Bondues in the summer. Shortly thereafter, 'we learned that there was also an Employment Protection Plan (PSE) in place,' said David Poure, FO union representative and machine operator who has been on the site for more than 20 years.

According to the trade unions, the project provides for 105 redeployment offers with 'wage cuts' of up to 25{7d3485657e94c2a51293ca186d4450b2f27c317aa7ee3509dac6c8bbf5461118}. 'Were going to be doing exactly the same job 8 km further, so we dont see why we should get paid less,' he asked himself. 'We are ready to take part in the relocation project, but we must not continue scratching employees any more'. Strikes have been linked since December and production has now ceased entirely. 'Many employees are on sick leave. Many do not understand, stay at home or come with a lump in their stomachs. Its unbelievable,' adds Jorisse.

Management claims to be 'aware' of the 'effort required of the employees' and justified its decision with a desire to prepare for the future by regrouping its operations in a 'more modern' location in a vast industrial area. 'We have a real competitiveness problem' and 'certain levels of remuneration are separated from the market,' explains Thierry Gaillard, CEO of the 'Carambar & Co' group, which was acquired in 2017 by the Eurazeo investment fund, which is in particular owned by Lutti, Krema, Michoko and Malabar.

'We are on the way to a shortage'

He recalls that this plan comes in a 'declining confectionery market', a decline 'accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis' and 'strong competition'.
'The employees will, however, retain their seniority' and 'the salary will be maintained for approximately 50{7d3485657e94c2a51293ca186d4450b2f27c317aa7ee3509dac6c8bbf5461118} of the redeployment offers. For the others it will be a self-contained adjustment, up to 15{7d3485657e94c2a51293ca186d4450b2f27c317aa7ee3509dac6c8bbf5461118}' of the maximum decrease, assured Mr. Gaillard, emphasizing that ' Negotiations with the social partners are ongoing '. These figures hide 'a confusion' between 'remuneration and basic salary', estimates the lawyer for the CSE and the trade unions, Me Stéphane Ducrocq. In fact, 'all employees have a certain number of bonuses that will drop from 32{7d3485657e94c2a51293ca186d4450b2f27c317aa7ee3509dac6c8bbf5461118} to 52{7d3485657e94c2a51293ca186d4450b2f27c317aa7ee3509dac6c8bbf5461118}', an overall reduction in net pay of up to 22{7d3485657e94c2a51293ca186d4450b2f27c317aa7ee3509dac6c8bbf5461118}.

He said he was 'surprised' by the 'insufficient' pace of negotiations - a weekly meeting - 'while the staff are outside'. 'If there is a social conflict, it has to be resolved! Besides, everyone loses,' he is alarmed.

Could the crisis lead to a shortage of yellow candy with joke stamps? 'Nothing comes out today, so sooner or later we will necessarily be heading for a shortage,' warns David Poure. 'We have a way out of the crisis,' says Gaillard, and at this point in time 'the vast majority of stores are still being supplied'. But 'there could be ruptures' if the conflict lasts 'weeks'.

The departure from the Marcq-en-Baroeul historic site, from which 7,500 tons of caramels leak out every year, will definitely be 'a tear,' says the mayor (LR) of the city, Bernard Gérard. 'There is a real bond between the residents and this place. Marcq-en-Baroeul, its Carambar!' He exclaims. A 'Carambar litter' was even organized in the city for twenty years in the spring, he recalls.