European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Belgium

24 January 2019

Belgium: unions see no perspective for an interprofessional agreement based on contested 2016 wage law

Belgium’s three trade unions confederations have jointly stated their dissatisfaction with the wage norm set by the Central Council for the Economy that limits wage increases to 0.8% in addition to the automatic indexation that compensates for inflation. A contested wage law that was concluded in 2016 dictates the margins for the annual wage increase. The unions will call for a general strike.

In a joint statement the trade unions have announced they are stopping wage negotiations and intend to go on strike because the maximum wage increase for 2019 and 2020 are to be limited to 0.8%. Recent years have been marked by euphoria about the economy and the pace of job creation, leading to fears of a shortage of labour. Yet, at the same time, employers' contributions have been reduced, wage indexation has been restricted and corporation tax for all companies has been reduced say the ACV/CSC, the ABVV/FGTB and the ACLVB in their joint press release. The better economic environment is not translating into higher wages and certainly not into higher minimum wages, they argue.

The Central Council of the Economy published in January 2019 several documents that serve as the main reference for regular wage negotiations. The Act of 26 July 1996 (revised in 2016), on the promotion of employment and the preventive safeguarding of competitiveness, provides for the publication, by the Central Council for the Economy and through its secretariat, of a series of reports on the evolution of employment and competitiveness in Belgium. According to the report from the Council that is dedicated to the margins for a wage increase, wages may rise by a maximum of 0.8 percent in 2019 and 2020 on top of the expected automatic wage indexation of 3.8 percent.

The trade unions’ position is that the wage law of 2016 (in French/Dutch) introduced by the outgoing administration, which entered into force in 2017 and is contested by the trade union movement, makes an interprofessional agreement impossible. Such an agreement would normally serve as a framework agreement on wage rises for the entire private sector and be valid for two years. The unions are asking for a wage increase above 0.8 percent and have ended negotiations with the employers. The unions have announced a date for the strike of 13 February 2019 to press their demands.

Normally these negotiations take place in the so-called Group of 10. In its first meeting of the 2019-round the unions have presented their demands. They have put on the table proposals for improvements that make work attractive, such as a significant increase in minimum wages, higher social benefits and pensions that bring recipients at least to the the poverty line, a redesign of work-life balance measures and better opportunities for combining work and private life, and concrete measures to improve mobility.

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