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The social is back in Belgium

The unions threaten to paralyze the private sector because of a disagreement with the employers on the wage increase.

The unions threaten to paralyze the private sector because of a disagreement with the employers on the wage increase.

From our correspondent, Max Helleff (Brussels) – This is news that the De Croo government would have done well. A few days ago, the affiliates of the socialist and Christian unions received by mail an invitation to sit back on March 29. “Negotiations on salary increases for the next two years have stalled. The employers’ world clings to the maximum margin of 0.4%, based on the 1996 law, revised in 2017 by the Michel government. (…) This margin, and the law on wage standards, must be reviewed. ”

Over the past year, unions have rarely made their voices heard. Federal and regional governments have taken care to release significant funds at regular intervals to support workers, thus avoiding a surge of social fever in the sectors most affected by the health crisis. But far from sticking to this observation, unions are stepping up to the plate, demanding that healthy sectors can grant their staff larger pay increases.

Since January, the social partners have been negotiating on wage and working conditions in the private sector. The employers point out the difficulties of the moment. Household confidence is weighed down, Belgians consume little and save a lot. The economy is slowing down. The unions do not hear it that way, however: certain sectors (pharma, mass distribution) continue to earn a lot of money.

After several weeks of negotiations, a failure sanctioned the attempts to reach an agreement. The unions therefore decided to increase the pressure by calling for a national strike.

On Wednesday, the socialist union launched the first hostilities by filing a 24-hour strike notice for the rail, from March 28 at 10 p.m. the next day, same time. With his Christian alter ego, the CSC, he therefore wants a “significant increase” in the minimum wage and low wages, but also a return to improving end-of-career, a measure once crossed out by the former Michel government in the past. name of budgetary orthodoxy.

The tension is growing. Also on Wednesday, it was the CSC which filed a notice of actions at Liège airport due to poor working conditions denounced by certain members of the staff.

Nothing has been done yet, but it is clear that this social movement comes at a bad time for the federal government, which is fighting head to head against the coronavirus. This Friday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo could decide to postpone the first deconfinement measures. Announced for April, they were to bring a breath of fresh air to the population.

The Prime Minister has no choice but to buy time. Faced with him, the unions are trying to keep workers’ solidarity intact. Last October, the unions were sometimes enthusiastic and sometimes cautious when reading the majority agreement of the De Croo government. They welcomed new investments in health care and the promise of a full pension of at least 1,500 euros.

But since then, weariness has set in. And certain sectors, such as catering, events and culture, know that they will pay a heavy price for the health crisis. On Tuesday, Budget Minister Eva De Bleeker told Belgians that they would have to tighten their belts for 10 years to erase the slate of the pandemic. The strike of March 29 could bring together well beyond the employees directly concerned.


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