Belgium: Discussions resume regarding regulation of strike action

Discussions in Belgium on the regulation of strike action have resumed.

Discussions on the regulation of strike action have resumed, following two deaths attributed indirectly to traffic jams caused by a general strike in October 2015. Government coalition parties have demanded that the social partners revised their so-called ‘Herenakkoord’, an informal agreement concluded in 2002, which stipulates that the social partners should prioritise social dialogue over conflictual approaches. Under the terms of the agreement, failure to do so would result in legislative initiatives to revise the rules concerning strike action and – potentially – union responsibility for breaching these.

In March 2016, negotiations between social partners regarding the revision failed to reach a compromise, leading to employers' organisations demanding governmental intervention in the discussion. Federal Minister of Economy and Employment Kris Peeters (of the CD&V party) was reluctant to intervene, stressing the role of social dialogue and the inefficiency caused by government interference in the process.

Proposals by employers’ organisations include a list of acceptable and prohibited actions, and the designation of a representative who would be responsible during a strike. This person would be tasked with keeping actions within certain boundaries, and could be held accountable if costs arise following strike actions. Unions have rejected these proposals, fearing a suppression of the right to strike. They stress that unacceptable actions during a strike are already covered by criminal law, making further stipulations in collective labour law superfluous.

While Minister Peeters condemned the actions of individuals during the strike action that might have contributed to the death of two people, he is reluctant to make significant changes to the informal 2002 agreement. This is due in part to the position his centrist party CD&V holds in the current governing coalition, with the other governing parties (Open VLD, MR and N-VA) highly sceptical of union action and social dialogue. These liberal and conservative parties have proposed Parliamentary hearing and legislative initiatives, following the failure of the social partners to reach an agreement. The discussion is still ongoing, but it seems unlikely that this contentious issue will be resolved before the upcoming social elections in May.

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