Focus on employment creation
Several initiatives in Belgium over summer 1997 reveal a serious intent on the part of the social partners to tackle unemployment.
The Socio-Economic Council of Flanders, the consultative body of the Flemish employer and employee representatives, annually submits an advisory report on the regional budget to the Flemish authorities. For 1998, according to the report, there is a "freely disposable" margin of BEF 7.4 billion (out of a total budget of BEF 570.4 billion). The Council has advised the Flemish Government to use this budgetary margin as far as possible for job creation. Budget surpluses in recent years have been used chiefly to reduce debt, but now there is a call for a policy aimed at halving unemployment in the medium term. Concrete measures to accomplish this will be worked out in the tripartite autumn bargaining round, which is intended to result in a Flemish Employment Act for 1998-9. The Socio-Economic Council has already expressed the view that Flanders spends too little on training employees and job-seekers in comparison with, for example, the Netherlands and Germany.
The consensus between the employer and employee representatives and politicians on the unemployment issue was also apparent from the recently agreed "Leuven Convention", in which a programme containing real measures to combat unemployment was supported by all democratic Flemish political parties, those with political responsibility for employment policy, and the employer and employee representatives. The 16 main signatories - including the Federal Minister for Employment Miet Smet and her counterpart for the Flemish Community, Theo Kelchermans, the director-general of the Belgian employers' federation and the presidents of the three trade unions - gave a personal commitment to make reducing the unemployment rate to between 3% and 5% by 2003 their priority objective. To this end, seven policy themes were developed, which must be implemented simultaneously;
- sustainable economic growth;
- reduction of working time and distribution of labour;
- reduction of labour costs;
- reform of the funding of the social security system
- the development of new forms and sectors of employment;
- transforming the "hidden" and "semi-hidden" labour markets into legitimate jobs; and
The signatories declared that they will continue to press all political, social and economic forces into the service of this objective and of the programme. The commitment of all the leading figures on the socio-economic front, and their personal pledges on this initiative, make the Leuven Convention a serious moral force in Flemish socio-economic politics.