European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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7 September 2018

Belgium: ‘Jobsdeal’ that leads to reform of unemployment benefit scheme is critically received

On Tuesday 24 July, the Belgian government reached agreement on the so-called ‘Jobsdeal’, a reform package with some 28 new employment measures. The overall aim of the package is to reform the labour market and it is expected to have a substantial impact on the level of unemployment benefits and availability of early retirement. The trade union movement has reacted very critically to the reforms.

During the summer break, the cabinet desperately worked on its 2019 budget. One of the prominent parts of the concluded draft policy plan for 2019 is a labour market reform comprising around 28 separate measures. The key feature of the deal that was labelled the ‘Jobsdeal’ is the reform of unemployment benefit payments in an effort to get the unemployed back into work more quickly. During the first six months of unemployment, claimants will receive a higher level of unemployment benefit than is currently the case. After six months, the level of unemployment benefit paid will fall more rapidly than currently. The government sees this as a contribution to an activating labour market policy. The aims are combating skills shortages and facilitate the return of workers to the labour market. The reform is scheduled to come into force on 1 January 2019; before that time, the necessary legislative and regulatory acts need to be adopted.

The package led to divergent reactions. Financial observers reviewed the reforms as too little and asked for stronger reforms. They are critical of the fact that the early retirement system will stay intact. Employers, however, welcomed the regression of unemployment benefits and the restrictions on the current early retirement scheme.

Trade union confederation ABVV/FGTB reacted with the announcement of a general strike on 2 October. According to the union the deal brings only a faster deterioration of unemployment benefits, strong restrictions on early retirement and on social retirement related to restructurings. The union will protest against the deal and the still pending reform of the pension system. ABVV/FGTB is in talks with the other unions about joining the strike.

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