Belgacom restructuring avoids conflict

Large-scale restructuring of Belgacom, the Belgian telephone company, has been negotiated in a cooperative social climate, marking a significant difference with the recent closure of the Renault plant at Vilvoorde

Following negotiations which have been held in a cooperative atmosphere, Belgacom, the partially privatised, but still largely government-owned Belgian telephone company, has announced plans to reduce rather drastically its number of employees. The current workforce of about 26,000 will have to be reduced by about 5,000 by the end of 1998.

Union delegates claim to be pleased with the accompanying compensation measures which were negotiated with Belgacom. These include a very generous voluntary early retirement scheme for all employees aged over 50. They will retain 75% of their gross income and a lump sum worth six months' pay if they accept the plan. The restructuring will reduce the average age of Belgacom employees by about 10 years (from 43 to 33). Other policies designed to ensure the competitive capacity of Belgacom in the liberalised market include a serious analysis of the "trainability" of about 6,000 employees, to adapt their skill levels to the new technologies in the telecommunications sector. This operation, which has been planned in cooperation with the union representatives, is already being labelled the "largest human resources action" in Belgian corporate history. The results of the whole operation will be a smaller, younger and better trained group of employees.

Company officials and trade union representatives also stress the major contrast with the combative and very uncongenial style of the Renault closure (EU9703108F). The Belgacom case serves as an example of a government company that has to restructure because of new rules on economic competitiveness introduced by the European Union. However, although they are pleased with the results of the negotiations, and although they have an understanding of the economic necessities lying behind the drastic measures introduced, union leaders remain cautious about the future of the company after the liberalisation of the European communications market. The Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (ACV/CSC) has announced that it will seek contacts with unions in other telecommunications companies in EU countries in order to develop a European strategy against possible restructuring and lay-offs in the future.

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