Militancy increases in Belgian non-profit sector

Protests in favour of better conditions and job prospects erupted in late 1997 across a range of not for profit areas of the Belgian economy.

On 16 December 1997 about 20,000 employees in the "social" or not-for-profit sector - also known as the "white sector" - protested in the streets of Brussels. They came from a wide variety of subsectors, including home care, care for the elderly, residential youth work, sheltered accommodation, hospitals and so on (BE9712127N), but they all united behind the slogan: "The elastic band is stretched too far."

The two largest trade union confederations - the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond/Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens, ACV/CSC) and the Belgian General Federation of Labour (Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique/Algemeen Belgisch Vakverbond, FGTB/ABVV) - drew up the following platform of demands for the Government:

  • more employment in this sector, where understaffing is a chronic problem;
  • weekly working time reductions to 35 hours in healthcare and 38 hours in youth work;
  • redistribution of labour through systems of temporary leave, early retirement and so on;
  • a special regime for employees over 50 including flexible working time, part-time early retirement and temporary leave;
  • abolition of "special" contracts (which lack the full set of employment rights) and their replacement by regular standard contracts; and
  • more parity of wages and labour conditions in the whole non profit-making sector.

Both union confederations claim that these measures can create up to 70,000 new jobs in this sector, with a correspondingly major impact on unemployment. Hans Bonte, Member of Parliament for the Flemish Socialists (SP), also voiced strong criticism against the current Government for not implementing the policy options mentioned in the agreement establishing the coalition government. The Government had indeed promised to create and implement an employment policy specifically for the not-for-profit sector. In addition, Mr Bonte advocated the need for more far-reaching negotiations within the sector.

It could well be that militancy will increase in this sector over coming months.

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