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A bonus in exchange for social peace in Belgium

The De Croo government circumvents wage increases by asking beneficiary companies to reward their workers.

Max HELLEFF

Max HELLEFF

The De Croo government circumvents wage increases by asking beneficiary companies to reward their workers.

From our correspondent Max HELLEFF (Brussels) -The De Croo government found, on the night of Wednesday to Thursday, an agreement likely to spare it a wave of social movements in the midst of a pandemic. He asks companies that made money during the health crisis to reward their workers and employees.

The agreement covers a bonus of 500 euros which would be granted to workers in addition to the 0.4% wage increase, a legal standard that the unions had hitherto demanded to revise upwards. However, the criteria for granting this bonus remain unclear, as does the level of profit that a company must have achieved in order to pay it.

However, an increase in the minimum wage may be considered on a case-by-case basis. This increase could also be achieved in the future through tax cuts. It is not certain that the unions which had tense the muscles on May 1 will be satisfied with this profitability bonus. The announcement of the government, whose parties, let us recall, go from left to right, in fact favors workers in companies that have made money despite the confinement. The unions demanded for their part a significant gesture for all those who were mobilized during the crisis, sometimes by being exposed to the virus on the front line.

In the bosses’ portfolio

We also remember that the French-speaking and Flemish socialists, although members of the government coalition, had threatened to block shareholder dividends if an agreement was not reached. The 1996 Competitiveness Act provides for the possibility of such a mechanism in the private sector.

On Wednesday, the partners of the Vivaldi coalition led by the Flemish liberal Alexander De Croo, however, were impatient to put an end to it. Only the Reform Movement (liberal francophone) of Georges-Louis Bouchez wanted to take the necessary time for the discussion. The business and independent world constitutes the heart of its electorate.

The government however quickly chose to privilege social peace, not the portfolio of the bosses. A number of companies have made big profits during the crisis and it seems normal to him at this stage that they reward their workers. This choice is a compromise: a fortnight ago, the government majority had foreseen “the possibility for social partners to negotiate, in companies which have experienced good results during the crisis, on an ad hoc basis, exceptional increases beyond 0.4% ”.

However, the Bouchez Reform Movement did not lose face since it had demanded that, if the bonus was granted in addition to the legal salary increase, it should be granted by company and not by sector. He was followed by the Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V) who had pleaded that only companies that have recorded good results go to the cash.

These “good results” remain to be defined. Employers will have their say and will be intransigent until they are sure that the standard of 0.4% wage increase is upheld.

The left of the government will take care for its part to claim a bonus for the greatest number. The Communist opposition, which has never been so well according to the polls, keeps it in the hot seat. It demands something else from the workers than the “jar of choco” received by the Bruges garbage collectors as a reward for work that has grown heavier in recent months, the confined Bruges residents producing some 3,000 tonnes of additional domestic waste.


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