Belgium: Latest developments in working life Q4 2019
A disagreement among social partners about an increase in the minimum wage and a proposal from the VBO-FEB to reduce the protection rights for trade union representatives who run for social elections are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Belgium in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Minimum wage negotiations stalled
Social partners failed to come to an agreement on an increase in minimum wages. The critical stance of trade union ABVV-FGTB was denounced by all other members of the Group of Ten (the highest level of bipartite negotiations within Belgium), and even other trade unions accused ABVV-FGTB of acting irresponsibly during the negotiations. This is because ABVV-FGTB published a public statement that the minimum wages would increase by 1.1% this year and an additional 2.4% the following year, even though no final agreement had been reached in October 2019.
One of the conditions of the employers’ associations is an extension of the outplacement regulation (whereby employers are obliged to offer a professional reclassification procedure to the worker made redundant so that the latter can find a job or start working as a self-employed worker). The employers’ associations want a part of the severance pay that employees are entitled to be automatically invested in outplacement guidance. However ABVV-FGTB is against this measure, and this has led to a standstill in negotiations. 
Employer organisation seeks to reduce dismissal protection of trade unionists
With the upcoming social elections in May 2020 – the procedure where employees at private companies choose representatives to represent them at the health and safety committee for companies over 50 employees or the works council for companies over 100 – VBO-FEB launched a proposal to reduce the dismissal protection of employee representatives who stand for election. According to VBO-FEB, the law was ill-considered when it was introduced in the early 1990s. The federation stated that the protection leads to abuse as the employees who enlist for the elections are protected from dismissal for four years (until the next social elections), regardless of whether they have been elected.
Head of VBO-FEB Monica De Jonghe stated that while this protection has its use, it makes it almost impossible for employers to dismiss employees who break the rules.  If an employer does dismiss such an employee, they are obliged to pay compensation which can cost up to €1 million.
The trade unions refute these claims and state that all employees who enlist are at risk of repercussions from their employer after the elections. Removing the protection for those employees who are not elected would increase the risk of less people being willing to participate. They believe that the current system is fair as the employer has the right to dismiss for critical reasons if they deem the situation to be serious enough. ACLVB-CGSLB Chair Mario Coppens said that his union has encountered 40 of these procedures on a total of 10,000 of their representatives, thereby refuting the claimed abuse as stated by VBO-FEB.