Belgium: Latest developments in working life Q2 2019
The ongoing dispute in the aviation industry, the establishment of a new support service for freelancers and a partial solution for intersectoral negotiations are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Belgium in the second quarter of 2019.
Strikes and disputes continue in the aviation industry
Disputes at Brussels airport continued into Q2, involving the air traffic controllers at Skeyes as well as Ryanair. 
The air traffic controllers continued to protest against high levels of work pressure, consecutive shifts and understaffing. While an agreement was reached within the Joint Committee at the beginning of May, not all trade unions signed it. The Confederation of Christian Trade Unions – Transcom (ACV/CSC-Transcom) and the Free Trade Union of Civil Servants (SLFP/VSOA) chose to consult with their members within the sector first. In their opinion, the terms of the agreement were not enough to alleviate the high levels of work pressure.
In reaction to the strikes by the personnel at Skeyes, several cargo companies relocated their activities.  Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport, stated that it was unclear how long this situation would continue. Much would depend on the works council scheduled for the end of June, where both parties would be represented and negotiations would continue. The pressure to find a solution increased further due to the upcoming summer season and ACV/CSC-Transcom announcing it was willing to strike during this period, if necessary.
At Ryanair, a preliminary agreement was reached at the end of May regarding wages and working conditions. The agreement stipulated that employees would receive a fixed monthly wage regardless of the number of flights they had serviced. Additional agreements were made regarding the remuneration of overnight stays, as well as holiday pay. These arrangements involved a wage increase of 25–50% for the current staff.
Support service targeted at freelancers
At the beginning of June, ACV/CSC announced it would launch a support service for freelancers called United Freelancers (UF). UF is one of the first formalised programmes for self-employed people without staff,  and members will be able to benefit from legal support and training.
Marc Leemans, ACV/CSC Director, stated that trade unions should initiate formal negotiations with the group at company, sectoral and national level. Spokespersons for the trade unions called it a first step towards preventing social dumping through false self-employment.  However, employer organisations were critical that the ACV/CSC was targeting freelancers. The Union of Self-Employed Entrepreneurs (UNIZO) and the Neutral Syndicate for the Self-employed (NSZ) expressed their concerns, since they have a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as members. They claimed that the negotiation opportunities for trade unions were vague and undefined, and that enlisting freelancers within a trade union was practically forcing them to remain small, one-person operations. The employer organisations also criticised the fact that trade unions had not cooperated in the past to improve the conditions and position of self-employed workers. Despite this, they agreed that the current problems regarding false self-employment needed to be addressed.
Intersectoral negotiations arrive at partial solution
The intersectoral wage negotiations that started in January 2019 continued in Q2, with social partners unable to reach a unanimous agreement. 
The government had been given the final decision on a proposal for a new wage norm that was put forward by trade unions and employer organisations, after it was rejected by the radical wing of the General Federation of Belgian Labour (ABVV/FGTB). However, to avoid a lengthy and difficult procedure in parliament, Prime Minister Charles Michel and Minister of Employment, Economy and Consumers Kris Peeters found that it was possible to establish a wage norm by Royal Decree rather than through parliament.  A decree was subsequently issued, which stated that the wage norm for all wages within the private sector could rise by up to 1.1%. As is the general procedure, the wage norm can now be negotiated within the different joint committees.
For other elements of the negotiations, such as the welfare envelope and making the early retirement scheme more flexible, a collective agreement has to be signed within the National Labour Council. While the ABVV/FGTB agreed with some of the proposals, they rejected the proposed minimum wage increase on the grounds that it was far too low. This will be up for further negotiation in the coming months.
Regarding the difficulties at Skeyes, the works council has not made any further information public and it is therefore unclear whether any progress has been made and if a consensus is likely to be reached. However, no additional strikes have been announced (as of the time of writing) and the situation appears to be stable.
It is also unclear if the ABVV/FGTB and the General Confederation of Liberal Trade Unions (ACLVB-CGSLB) intend to follow the example of ACV/CSC by establishing a service specifically for freelancers and the self-employed without staff. Meanwhile, the legal competences of UF have yet to be clearly delineated, as currently they are not allowed to negotiate formally on behalf of their members.