Unions call for more work, a better quality of life and more democracy in Flanders

A "rainbow" coalition government is being created in Belgium following the defeat of the Christian Democrat/Socialist coalition in general elections in June 1999. In a joint memorandum to those involved in the new coalition, the Flemish sections of the ACV/CSC and ABVV/FGTB trade union confederations have called for more work, a better quality of life and more democracy.

General elections were held in Belgium on 13 June 1999, resulting in the defeat of the incumbent Christian Democrat/Socialist coalition. Negotiations then began at federal and community levels on creating a so-called "rainbow" coalition government. For the first time in its post-war history, Belgium will be ruled by a political majority of Liberals, Socialists and Greens, with the Christian Democrats being left on the sidelines.

Following the elections, the Flemish sections of Belgium's two main trade union confederations - the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens/Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond, CSC/ACV) and the Belgian General Federation of Labour (Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique/Algemeen Belgisch Vakverbond, FGTB/ABVV) - sent a joint memorandum to all those involved in the rainbow coalition negotiations. The two unions state that they fully endorse the message sent by the electorate demanding change, renewal (of political policy and administration) and a better quality of life, and add that they are prepared to shoulder their responsibility in achieving those aims by strengthening their presence in industry, as well as by engaging in a permanent dialogue with the environmental movement.

In line with the concern for a better quality of life, both unions expect the new government to respond to new social needs by expanding the level of care and improving the funding of education, and to contribute to bringing about an improvement in the quality of work through a more family-friendly organisation of work, by improving the position of workers and through better harmonisation of various employment measures. The trade unions are also seeking a strengthening (through better enforceability of the regulations and permanent monitoring of compliance with them) of environmental and spatial planning policy, as well as a better mobility policy.

Full employment in Flanders and, as an intermediate step, a reduction in employment to 4% by the end of the new government's term, are achievable aims, according to the trade unions, if the new government:

  • makes investing in Flanders more attractive by improving the physical infrastructure and creating a more sustainable labour market (more training and education and better employment policy);
  • gives priority to developing the not-for-profit sector and builds attention to sustainable development into its environmental and employment policy;
  • actively promotes the redistribution of existing employment; and
  • stimulates a more sustainable labour market through counselling of job-seekers in combination with permanent training and career guidance for those in work.

In their memorandum, the two trade unions focus very explicitly on the quiet but steady onward march of extreme right-wing political views, as reflected in the outcome of the elections. They declare that it is the task of all democratic, political, social, economic and cultural forces in society to call a halt to this steady progress. With this in mind, they call for more attention to be devoted to those groups in society who have become marginalised - the poorly educated, the young, the long-term unemployed - more attention to the battle against degeneration and decay, and more initiatives to foster a climate of tolerance.

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