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Background information on industrial relations in Belgium

  • 02 Dec 2009
    Belgium: Social partners react strongly to state austerity measures

    Trade unions and employer organisations have reacted strongly to the harsh austerity measures facing the Belgian federal state, voicing opinions on where to implement the cost-cutting measures. The employer organisations propose cuts in the civil service, while fiercely opposing the introduction of new taxes. Trade unions, on the other hand, strongly defend the social security budget and have put forward a wide range of alternative proposals.

  • 20 Nov 2009
    Belgium: Use of ‘ecocheques’ a feature of current sectoral bargaining

    Collective bargaining for Belgium’s new sectoral agreements for 2009–2010 has been underway in the spring and summer of 2009. This follows the conclusion of the intersectoral national agreement for the private sector. Although coverage remains high and the usual bargaining topics have been addressed, the sectoral agreements can be defined as atypical: for instance, almost all of the agreements follow the intersectoral guideline to limit nominal wage increases to two premiums, with the newly created possibility of ‘eco-cheques’ being used extensively.

  • 05 Oct 2009
    Belgium: Milk producers take strike action against low prices

    In recent months, Belgian milk producers have organised several strike initiatives in protest against the very low price of milk. Farmer federations are denouncing the EU deregulation policies, as well as the low prices imposed by retailers which have obliged producers to sell their products at a loss. An agreement reached by Flemish farmer representatives seeks to help producers in the short term; however, the agreement has been rejected by Walloon farmer organisations.

  • 22 Sep 2009
    Representativeness of the European social partner organisations: Steel industry – Belgium

    The aim of this representativeness study is to identify the respective national and supranational actors (i.e. trade unions and employer organisations) in the field of industrial relations in the steel industry in Belgium. In order to determine their relative importance in the sector’s industrial relations, this study will, in particular, focus on their representational quality as well as on their role in collective bargaining.

  • 18 Sep 2009
    Belgium – Greening the European Economy: responses and initiatives by Member States and social partners

    The ‘green’ chapter in the Belgian recovery plan is only limited. This conclusion ‘hides’ however the attention the issue gets in the (tri-partite) social dialogue and concertation. The partners are building in this regard on policy experience, created in the last 10 to 15 years related to the topics of sustainable development, energy and climate. An important recent initiative in this regard is the eco-cheque. More is certainly to come in the coming months, when the new regional governments will be established. Topics include energy efficiency, mobility, eco-innovation, and sustainable public procurement.

  • 15 Sep 2009
    Belgium: Flexicurity and industrial relations

    Belgium acquired the European Union’s ‘Outline for growth and employment’ by adopting its National Reform Programme in November 2005 which covers the country’s commitments in the fields of employment and economic policy. In the context of this programme, it appears that the European discussion relating to flexicurity is receiving a favourable response from the Belgian authorities. In 2004, the latter highlighted the necessity ‘of examining the rules written into Belgian legislation which provide excessive and counter-productive protection and those which remain important to guarantee workers’ security’. As for the National Reform Programme of 2005-2008, it signals the obsolescence of the ‘security of employment’ and replaces it with that of ‘security of career’ or making career paths more secure by facilitating the transition between jobs. In this way, Belgium is committing itself to promote flexicurity. The connecting thread running through the reforms which have been announced is an increase in the rate of activity and the maintenance in employment of those who are at risk of leaving the employment market.

  • 04 Sep 2009
    Belgium: Results of 2008 social elections in private sector

    The 15th national social elections were held in Belgium in May 2008 to elect the country’s worker representatives to works councils and health and safety committees. Although the General Christian Trade Union remains by far the majority trade union confederation in Belgium, it experienced slight or very slight losses in a number of economic sectors and regions.

  • 31 Aug 2009
    Belgium: New centre left-wing coalition governments in Wallonia and Brussels

    In June 2009, the Belgian regions and communities held elections, following which two new centre left-wing coalition governments were formed in Wallonia and Brussels. The elections were held in a particular context marked by the economic crisis and an increasing deficit, environmental issues and tensions between the two main linguistic communities. Expectations for the new governments and their plans to tackle the crisis situation are extremely high.

  • 05 Aug 2009
    Belgium: Study reveals increasing pay gap

    A study by the University of Brussels showed that the wage gap between the lowest and highest earners has increased in the past 10 years. The pay gap between average workers in different sectors could rise to 150%, while a gender wage gap is also prominent. The Belgian General Federation of Labour considers these inequalities a cause of the financial crisis and calls for a profound reform of the fiscal system.

  • 30 Jul 2009
    Representativeness of the European social partner organisations: Tanning and leather sector – Belgium

    The aim of this representativeness study is to identify the respective national and supranational actors (i.e. trade unions and employer organisations) in the field of industrial relations in the tanning and leather sector in Belgium. In order to determine their relative importance in the sector’s industrial relations, this study will, in particular, focus on their representational quality as well as on their role in collective bargaining.

  • 28 Jul 2009
    Belgium: Reducing working time as anti-crisis measure

    In April 2009, the Belgian government and social partners finally agreed on a crisis scheme for white-collar workers. Although the scheme has not been labelled ‘temporary unemployment’, the three measures adopted allow for a crisis-related reduction in working hours, a crisis time credit system and collective suspension from work. The first measure is available to all companies, while the other two can only be implemented by companies in financial difficulties.

  • 28 Jul 2009
    Belgium: 50,000 demonstrators worried about future of economic and employment system

    While their European counterparts demonstrated in Berlin, Madrid and Prague, the Belgian trade unions joined by the French and Luxembourg unions gathered in Brussels in protest over the absence of social issues in the European project. The demonstration was organised by the European Trade Union Confederation and represented an opportunity for the trade unions and workers to express their concerns about the European integration process and its role in the economic crisis.

  • 27 Jul 2009
    Belgium: Budget orthodoxy and crisis measures a focus of regional elections

    In June 2009, the social partners used the occasion of the regional elections to put forward their demands to the new governments. Among the key issues raised were budget orthodoxy and tackling the economic crisis. The employers highlighted the importance of investing in innovation and infrastructure, while the trade unions focused on the need to invest in public services and to tackle social issues such as poverty and unemployment.

  • 27 Jul 2009
    Belgium: New rules on company alcohol and drugs policy

    In April 2009, the National Employment Council concluded its 100th collective agreement, requiring every company to have a preventive alcohol and drugs policy in place. The agreement seeks to create greater recognition of the issue and to encourage a preventive rather than punitive approach. The agreement is an initiative of both employer organisations and trade unions as part of a general move to improve people’s well-being at work.

  • 02 Jul 2009
    Belgium: Multinational companies and collective bargaining

    Multinational companies are numerous in Belgium and employ a signicative part of the national employment. Collective bargaining is organised along a pyramidal hierarchy and labour norms defined minimal acceptable standards in interprofessional and sectoral agreements to be completed by companies’ agreements. This system delimits the latitude of the management in labour areas. However, the presence of MNC’s introduced new practices in companies and then in collective agreements such as temporary work or teleworking. Beyond the issues in agreements, it is more the procedures of social relationships that evolved via a judiciarisation of the management practices: recourse to lawyers to bargain with the employees’ representatives instead of the local management or again recourse to courts to settle a strike movement.

  • 01 Jun 2009
    Belgium: New economic recovery plan launched for Wallonia

    In 2005, the Walloon regional government launched a set of measures seeking to boost the worrying economic situation of the region. The impacts of these measures are being evaluated in 2009. At the same time, in light of the upcoming regional elections in June 2009, the government has proposed a new framework for further measures. As part of this initiative, a particular focus will be placed on developing the region’s ‘green economy’ and its sustainability in the long term.

  • 21 May 2009
    Belgium: Social partners give the green light to ‘ecocheques’

    On 20 February 2009, the National Labour Council concluded a collective agreement on introducing ecocheques. The ecocheque is a wage premium, under certain conditions with social tax exemptions, focusing on environmentally-friendly and sustainable – so-called ‘green’ –consumer goods. The new system as well as an increase in the value of employees’ lunch vouchers are part of a broader plan to relaunch the country’s economy and maintain workers’ purchasing power.

  • 11 May 2009
    Belgium: Temporary unemployment is buffer to economic crisis

    Considered as a ‘flexicurity’ measure in Belgium, the temporary unemployment of blue-collar workers has increased sharply in the first months of the global economic crisis. However, social dialogue aiming to extend the system to other occupational groups seems to have failed. This failure is being circumvented at workplace level by using all forms of existing measures to reduce working time in order to save the jobs of white-collar workers too, especially in industry.

  • 11 May 2009
    Belgium: Trade unions call for better reconciliation between work and family

    Each year, Belgium’s trade unions organise several events during the month of March to highlight the issue of gender equality at the workplace. While gender discrimination is legally forbidden, a gender pay gap remains; the trade unions have thus sought to raise awareness of this issue among workers and politicians. In particular, they have focused on working women’s difficulties in reconciling their job and family life.

  • 30 Apr 2009
    Belgium: Impact of financial crisis on bank employees

    Belgian banks have been hit hard by the international financial crisis since mid 2008, resulting in all of the major banks receiving state help. As a result of the crisis, trade unions fear major job cuts in the sector in the near future and are fighting for employment protection. The government also reacted to the unfolding events by introducing a law to limit the wage bonuses of chief executive officers.

  • 30 Apr 2009
    Belgium: Crisis in automotive industry affects thousands of workers

    The global economic crisis has caused a major decrease in demand within the automotive industry. Temporary unemployment, the suspension of night shifts as well as no contract renewal for temporary and fixed-term workers are some of the measures that the main car manufacturers in Belgium and their subcontractors have announced in recent months. The automotive supply industry also employs a significant proportion of the sector’s workforce.

  • 28 Apr 2009
    Belgium: Wage flexibility and collective bargaining

    In Belgium, a “variable pay” used to be a part of the salary. Even if there are similarities, there exist almost as many variable pay systems as the number of companies, which use it. There is no specific law regulating this kind of profits. Thus, general dispositions relative to labour contract and to salary are the main reference in this matter. As far as we know, no specific sectoral dispositions have been negotiated in the steel and banking sectors. Agreements on variable pay systems are negotiated at enterprise level. Even if variable pay systems are generally used for high professional profiles, they are more and more used for lower profiles as well.

  • 28 Apr 2009
    Representativeness of the European social partner organisations: Hospitals – Belgium

    The aim of this representativeness study is to identify the respective national and supranational actors (i.e. trade unions and employer organisations) in the field of industrial relations in the hospital sector in Belgium. In order to determine their relative importance in the sector’s industrial relations, this study will, in particular, focus on their representational quality as well as on their role in collective bargaining.

  • 02 Apr 2009
    Belgium: Success of restructuring process at Volkswagen Forest

    In November 2006, the automotive manufacturer Volkswagen AG (VW) cut 4,000 jobs at its Forest plant in the Brussels region, transferring production of the VW Golf model to two of the company’s German plants. A ‘reconversion cell’ was established for the redundant workers living in the Walloon region of southern Belgium with the aim of helping them to find another job. One year after the process began, 70% of those made redundant succeeded in finding a new job.

  • 31 Mar 2009
    Belgium: Wage formation

    Wage bargaining and formation is a key feature of the Belgian industrial relations system. In this national contribution the key dimensions of this system are outlined. Coordinated wage bargaining at sector level with an automatic indexation and wage norm are the basic features of this Belgian system. In the following, additional elements of this system will be introduced (recent trends, minimum wage, gender aspects) while a case study will highlight wage developments in the IT sector.

  • 24 Mar 2009
    Belgium: National strategy for health and safety at work 2008–2012

    In November 2008, the Belgian Minister of Employment and Equal Opportunities, Joëlle Milquet, disclosed the main orientations that she plans to give the National Strategy on Health and Safety at Work for the period 2008–2012. Minister Milquet intends to strengthen policies and controls by the labour inspectorate. Furthermore, she aims to raise awareness about work-related diseases, as well as achieving a 25% decrease in accidents at work – in line with EU targets.

  • 24 Mar 2009
    Belgium: Social partners sign Pact 2020 for Flanders region

    On 19 January 2009, a new pact for the future was signed by the social partners in Belgium’s Flemish region. ‘Pact 2020’ is a type of tripartite mission statement, which defines a range of policy goals for 2020 for the Flanders region. In line with the European Lisbon Strategy objectives, the region wants to be among Europe’s top five regions in relation to innovation, employment, social cohesion and sustainability.

  • 24 Mar 2009
    Belgium: 50% of companies expect to restructure in 2009

    According to a study conducted by the human resources consultancy SD Worx, half of the companies located in Belgium expect to undertake restructuring during 2009. The companies expressing this view are mainly large organisations employing more than 500 employees and many are internationally owned. Domestic companies and small and medium-sized enterprises seem to be less concerned by restructuring processes.

  • 09 Mar 2009
    Belgium: the impact of the information and consultation Directive

    At the time of writing, Belgium had not implemented the information and consultation Directive and has been recently convicted for this non-compliance by the European Court of Justice. The reason for the delay was the lack of consensus between the social partners on the matter. The relevance of the Directive to expand the existing statutory rules on workplace representation to small enterprises forms the core of the dispute. However, the Directive was finally implemented in June 2008.

  • 06 Feb 2009
    Belgium: Collective bargaining and continuous vocational training

    In Belgium, adult education was regionalised during the institutional reform of the State. The regions were given economical competences and the Communities received competencies linked to the language of the citizen (such as education, culture, etc). In The French-speaking part of the country, adult education was finally transferred to the Walloon region. As a consequence, vocational training as a tool of the employment policy depends on the three regions (Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia) while initial training depends on the three linguistic communities (Dutch, French and German-speaking). Moreover, the social partners at all levels (Cross-industry, sectors, companies) play a prominent role in devising, organising and managing the Belgian CVT system.

  • 04 Feb 2009
    Belgium: Social partners and government agree plan to boost economy

    At the end of 2008, the Belgian government presented a stimulus plan to revive the national economy. In the meantime, the social partners negotiated their intersectoral agreement for the next two years, which seeks to strike a balance between companies’ competitiveness, purchasing power and employment in light of the current economic crisis. A substantial increase of net salaries and tax reductions for employers are among the proposed measures.

  • 19 Jan 2009
    Belgium: Prison officers strike for better pay and working conditions

    Trade unions representing workers in the prison service once again resorted to strike action over pay and working conditions, staging 24-hour strikes in prisons between September and October 2008. In the meantime, however, negotiations were resumed in an effort to solve the pending industrial conflict. Any further strike action will depend on the outcome of these negotiations and on whether the promised pay increases are implemented.

  • 13 Jan 2009
    Belgium: Political and economic crises hamper social partner talks

    Over the past months, the social partners have entered negotiations on a national intersectoral agreement to determine their economic and social priorities for 2009–2010. However, the negotiations take place in a double crisis context – the global economic crisis and the country’s political crisis. In this context, negotiations have been difficult, with the employers aiming to contain wage inflation and the trade unions focusing on workers’ decreasing purchasing power.

Page last updated: 05 September, 2014