Belgian city levies ‘automation tax’ on self-service checkouts
18 July 2022
by Sarah Wray
The municipality of Molenbeek-Saint-Jean in the Brussels-Capital Region has approved the introduction of a €5,600 (US$5,689) tax per self-scanning cash register.
Mayor Catherine Moureaux said that due to self-service checkouts, customers can now do tasks that were once reserved for staff, meaning jobs are disappearing.
She said there is also an impact on “social cohesion” such as in neighbourhoods where many older people live because contact between customers and shop employees is minimised.
The tax also aims to raise money for the municipality in a “difficult budgetary context”. The city has taken other steps to diversify its income such as a tax on professional film shooting and a reformed tax on advertising in public space.
Trade organisation Buurtsuper.be called the checkout tax “crazy”.
“We recently conducted research into the impact of automation on the jobs and competencies of store clerks. This shows that it is a misconception that jobs would disappear. The tasks of a cashier, for example, will look different when self-scanning is introduced, but the job itself will not disappear,” said Luc Ardies from Buurtsuper.be.
He said that traditional checkouts typically remain available and warned that the tax could have a much greater impact on job losses than self-scanning.
“Our recent profitability analysis showed that 60 to 70 percent of independent supermarkets will suffer losses in 2022 due to rising energy costs,” he commented. “The introduction of such a tax could be the last straw.”
Buurtsuper.be has asked the municipal council to reconsider the decision or make an exception for independent supermarkets.
Rise of automation
Julien Fortin from the municipality of Molenbeek told Cities Today that supermarkets will be expected to declare the number of self-scan cash registers that they have. Those that fail to do so will be automatically enrolled for the tax plus an additional ten percent.
He said there are no plans to apply a similar tax to other technologies at the moment.
RBR, a London-based strategic consulting firm, forecasts that by 2026 there will be 1.5 million self-service checkouts installed globally, with the technology being increasingly used by retailers beyond supermarkets. Some stores are doing away with checkouts altogether through the use of cameras and sensors that identify goods taken from shelves, with the bill settled electronically.
In 2019, the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration proposed a 1p levy on self-service checkout transactions which it said could raise £30 million (US$35.8 million) a year to fund social integration projects.
Others including Bill Gates and a San Francisco Board of Supervisors member have previously suggested introducing taxes on companies that use robots and other automated systems that displace jobs.