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Praise, criticism from unions and employers

Published on 12/10/2005

12 October 2005

BRUSSELS — While the Belgian employers association VBO was in general pleased with the federal government’s policy statement on Tuesday, the threat of a union showdown hangs over the nation’s head.

The VBO said Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt’s ‘generation pact’ — which is designed to stimulate employment and limit early retirement — was a considered piece of work.

“It can bring about a change of mentality by all those who hold a stake in society and resolutely aims for a higher [worker] participation rate,” the VBO said.

The VBO also said the government had realised the nation’s labour costs are high and harm Belgium’ competitive position. It said this realisation led to the decision to cut labour costs, newspaper ‘De Tijd’ reported on Wednesday.

The Flemish employers network Voka said the EUR 960 million cuts to labour costs and the rise in the minimum early retirement age from 58 to 60 are important steps, but are not sufficient to guarantee jobs in the long-term, let alone create employment.

Voka said the generation pact contained several valuable measures to increase worker participation and guarantee the financing of the social security system, but is concerned about the nation’s competitive position and employment rate.
Self-employed association NSZ said self-employed workers and small businesses had been forgotten. It said the cut in labour costs, definitely for shift work, will only affect large companies.

Meanwhile, the Socialist union ABVV has said lifting the minimum early retirement age to 60 is “unacceptable” and directed sharp criticism to the Christian union ACV, claiming its more moderate stance gave Verhofstadt an “open target”.
ABVV secretary Xavier Verboven said unions would have had a stronger case to make in discussions with the government and employers if every worker had gone out on strike on 7 October.

Verboven was also critical of the ACV advertisement that appeared on 6 October stating that early retirement would remain possible at the age of 58. He said the message sparked confusion among ACV members.

ABVV has calculated that the government’s reforms will result in 25 percent of men and 22 percent of women losing the right to take early retirement at age 58 after 35 years of employment history from 2008, when the reforms will take effect.

In 2012, when the employment history pre-requisite will be lifted to 38 years, ABVV said the percentages will rise to 49 and 53 percent, newspaper ‘De Standaard’ reported.

However, ACV was not convinced by the figures and said “access to early retirement will not really be more difficult”. The union pointed to the large number of exceptions built into the new minimum age of 60. “In fact, the age is lower,” it said.

The ACV is also convinced the choice of director Luc Cortebeeck to enter into negotiations brought about due rewards. It also said the ABVV decision to strike did not succeed and that better results would have been possible otherwise.

The definitive union assessment of the government’s policy statement will be known on 18 October after extensive consultations with union members.

There is no doubt that the ABVV will reject the government’s plans and new strikes have not been ruled out.

It is less probable, but not improbable for the ACV to reject the reforms. The rational approach by the ACV management is not necessarily shared by union members and willingness to strike will be surveyed in coming days.

[Copyright Expatica News 2005]

Subject: Belgian news