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Belgium

25 April 2018

Belgium: government formulates criteria for hard and arduous jobs in the frame of the pension reform

Shortly before Easter, the government concluded a draft bill in the frame of the pension reforms that defines whether an occupation is arduous and demanding. The idea is that these occupations will be compensated for the planned increase of the pension age. The social partners have discussed this delicate issue in 2017 and it is now up to the pensions minister to negotiate with the social partners on the criteria that workers have to meet.

The Council of Ministers approved at the end of March 2018, a draft bill that defines the criteria of hard work (physical constraints, organisation of work, safety risks and mental or emotional hardship) and the coefficients that will be applied to the career so as to allow to retire earlier or increase the pension. The Minister of Pensions received the mandate from the government to open the social dialogue with the employers’ and trade union organisations.

The trade unions went on strike in January 2018 in protest at the Federal Government’s retirement and pensions policies, as they no longer trusted a reasonable outcome of the deliberations inside the government. The retirement age will increase to 66 years in 2025 and 67 years in 2030. Exceptions will be made for those that work in jobs that involve a lot of physical effort. The issue had been disputed over a long period before progress could be made on the criteria for occupations that will fall under this category.

The criteria that are formulated by the Federal Government fix the minimum age for someone working in a demanding occupation to 60. Demanding jobs are either: physically demanding manual work; or involve irregular hours; or high safety risks; or stress at work. The notion of stress can only be applied in combination with at least one of the three other criteria. The calculation method is that each year for a worker who meets one of the three criteria will count as 1.05 years, increasing to 1.10 years if two criteria are met and 1.15 years if three criteria are met. If all three criteria are met, a person that has worked in a demanding job will be able to retire early up to a maximum of 6 years.

The Pensions Minister has to start the negotiations with the unions and employers’ federations about which professions meet which criteria. The negotiations will be tough as the trade unions have expressed serious reservations about the government’s proposal. According to the ABVV/FGTB trade union confederation, a hard-working worker who leaves early in retirement will have an incomplete career and therefore a lower pension. The union has calculated that the current proposal can lead to a monthly 254-euro loss of pension earnings. Trade union confederation ACV/CSC was also very critical and stated in recent weeks that the proposals didn’t meet its expectations for a fair and decent pension.

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