Brussels-Capital Territorial Employment Pact examined

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Initiated in July 1996 and officially recognised in June 1998, the Territorial Employment Pact (TEP) of the Brussels-Capital region involves a set of original actions aimed at improving the management of labour markets at the regional level. The social partners, both employers and trade unions, are associated with the Pact as beneficiaries of a number of training measures and through a joint consultative body represented in the partnership that manages the TEP. This article examines the development of the Pact up until early 2000 and its distinctive features.

Territorial Employment Pacts (TEP s) are an initiative launched in the mid-1990s by the then President of the European Commission, Jacques Santer, with the aim of increasing the impact of the Community Structural Funds on regional and local employment. The general aim of TEPs is to concentrate and intensify employment efforts in circumscribed geographical areas through a global and integrated approach. The aim is to mobilise all parties concerned with employment around a joint project that permits improved coordination of job-creating actions in a given territory. The geographical areas covered by TEPs must be eligible for European Social Fund (ESF) funding under any one of its Objectives. Thus, the Pacts do not have their own financial means to pursue actions but receive an annual EUR 200,000 technical support subsidy for their management. The involvement of the social partners is explicitly called for, preferably starting with the initial elaboration phase.

The Brussels-Capital Pact

The first exchanges concerning the creation of a TEP for the Brussels-Capital Region began in September 1996, following a letter sent by the director of the employment division of Directorate General V of the European Commission to each representative of an Operational Programme (OP) linked to the ESF. The representative of the Brussels OP (which operates under ESF Objectives 3 and 4) submitted a proposal for a TEP to the ESF Monitoring Committee, which gave its enthusiastic backing in October the same year, before the Minister-President of the Region gave him the role of Pact coordinator.

The first half of 1997 was devoted to a number of meetings, which led to a paper presenting the outline of the TEP to the European Commission. On 13 October 1997, DG V granted a EUR 200,000 technical assistance subsidy, thereby launching the preparatory phase of the Pact. The maximum duration of this phase is four months, at the end of which the Commission expects a report that includes a detailed action plan. On 13 February 1998, the action plan was submitted to the Commission, which accepted it on 19 May. The Pact was then officially recognised by the regional authorities on 15 June.

In drawing up the TEP, consensus had to be obtained for an action plan that would be acceptable to all partners. The elaboration of the action plan was a long and laborious process, essentially owing to the fact that the partners wanted the plan to be the result of "joint construction" rather than "negotiation". The other factor that made this joint elaboration a difficult exercise was the involvement of the social partners within the partnership responsible for the Pact. This involvement revealed a series of particular difficulties that hampered the development of a "broad and genuine partnership" comprising parties with different objectives, statuses and histories.

The first of these tensions related to the four-month deadline imposed by the European Commission for completing the drafting of an action plan. It was impossible for the social partners within the Economic and Social Council of Brussels-Capital (Conseil économique et social de la région de Bruxelles-Capitale/Sociaal Economische Raad van het Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest) to deal with this task in such short time based on full debate between them. The gap between the deadline imposed by the Commission and the normal pace of debate between the social partners led to the initial submission of a provisional action plan that did not include the opinions of the social partners. A definitive action plan that did take into account these opinions was nevertheless submitted later, in time for approval by the Commission.

The second tension was of an institutional nature. The social partners were reluctant to subscribe to the idea of a TEP, because they feared that the initiative would replace the normal consultation procedure under Brussels' institutional framework. According to this procedure, the region's Economic and Social Council is consulted and provides opinions to the regional government. It seems that this consultation procedure never really took off, owing to the government's lack of will, explaining the social partners' distrust of a project that they deemed "ambiguous" in respect of its institutional objectives.

The last tension related explicitly to the contents of the action plan, on which the social partners put forward a series of demands. These demands stemmed mainly from the social partners' distrust of a number of actions undertaken by associations involved in training or socio-occupational integration programmes targeted at low-qualified or marginal groups. A debate ensued between the "economic" logic espoused by the social partners ("growth creates employment") and the "associative" logic espoused by organisations from the "social economy" or dealing with training ("social cohesion must be re-established, starting from assistance and training measures targeted at the most disadvantaged") (see "Evolution des accords relatifs à l'emploi et au marché du travail. Juillet 98 – Juin 99" [Trends in employment and labour market agreements, July 1998 - June 1999], Rapport annuel sur la concertation et la négociation remis à la DG V [Annual report on concertation and negotiation submitted to DG V], Institut des Sciences du Travail (1999)).

In the end, these various difficulties were overcome through discussion and dialogue among all the partners within the Pact. The social partners declared that they were satisfied with the procedure that was followed and the manner in which they were able to influence the content of the action plan.

Specific features of the Brussels Pact

Each TEP is unique and strives to find solutions to a specific set of problems relating to employment. In this perspective, the Brussels-Capital region has two particularly distinctive features:

  • a large proportion of the city's population (over 30%) is of foreign origin. This specific demographic situation and the existence of prejudices or fears with respect to people of foreign origin make necessary actions to counter discrimination in recruitment; and
  • the Brussels economy is undergoing a radical transformation of its sectoral make-up, owing to its twin roles as the Belgian federal capital and "capital of Europe". Industrial sectors, which were once the engines of regional growth, are thus declining and being progressively replaced by service activities. However, this restructuring of the regional economic fabric is slow and needs to be stimulated by a series of aid and research measures.

Fighting discrimination

In 1999, the publication and dissemination of data relating to Belgium in an International Labour Organisation (ILO) survey on discrimination in recruitment sparked a series of brisk reactions. The data provide a candid picture confirming the hypothesis that, for the same qualifications and (other) demographic characteristics, employment applications by native Belgians are treated differently than those by Belgians of foreign origin. This finding elicited reactions from political circles and the social partners. The Federation of Belgian Enterprises (Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique/Verbond van Belgische Ondernemingen, FEB/VBO) and the employers' organisations of the Walloon region (Union Wallonne des Entreprises, UWE), Flemish region (Vlaams Economisch Verbond, VEV) and Brussels region (Union des Entreprises de Bruxelles/Vereniging van de Ondernemingen van Brussel, UEB/VOB) issued a joint declaration on the employment of migrant workers. At the same time, the government made mandatory the application of national collective labour agreement No. 38bis, which forbids any discrimination based on workers' origin, religion or nationality. More generally, the publicity organised around the results of the ILO survey led to a round of meetings between the social partners on a subject that had long been "taboo" and launched a far-reaching awareness-building and training campaign targeted at enterprises (see "Et si votre société était aussi riche que la société? Bruxelles au changement de siècle" [And if your company were as rich as society? Brussels at the turn of the century], in Solidarités urbaines, No. 58-59, June 1999).

In the Brussels-Capital region, the TEP took charge of organising and executing this two-pronged campaign: a media information effort targeted at the general press and the journals of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry; and the organisation of seminars for the people within enterprises who are most involved in the hiring process and in defining the "company culture".

The involvement of the Brussels-Capital TEP was most marked in this second activity, and it now provides the main support structure for the organisation of seminars and targets the sectors in which training sessions should take place. The seminars are organised in partnership with the equal opportunities department of the Federal Ministry of Employment and Labour, the Professional Union of Temporary Work Agencies (Union Professionnelle des Entreprises d'Intérim/Beroepsvereniging van Zendkantoren, UPEDI) and the Centre for Equal Opportunities (Centre pour l'égalité des chances), and in cooperation with the social partners in the sectors concerned. The seminars are aimed at employers, managers, recruitment officers, members of works councils and trade union delegations. Their objective goes beyond mere awareness-building to encompass, through dialogue, the drawing up of concrete actions in the various sectors.

The training sessions started in October 1999. Two sectors benefited from them during the initial phase. The first was the sector covered by the National Auxiliary Joint Committee for White-Collar Workers (Commission Paritaire Nationale Auxiliaire pour Employés/Aanvullend Nationaal Paritair Comité voor Bedienden, CPNAE/ANPCB), where the training was organised in collaboration with the joint training centre for the sector (CEFORA). The second was the sector of transport and removals companies represented by the Belgian Federation of Transport Enterprises (Fédération belge du transport, FEBETRA). In the first months of 2000, three new sectors have benefited from the training, or will do so shortly: metalworking and electrical equipment (in cooperation with FABRIMETAL, the employers' organisation for the sector); mass distribution; and banking/insurance. In all cases, the sectors are important ones for Brussels' economy in terms of activities and number of employees.

Developing new sectors

The other great economic and social challenge confronting Brussels is its diversification with a view to focusing on sectors with growth prospects and job-creation potential. It is a question of developing the leadership function that the city is acquiring owing to its role as the "capital of the European Union". The development of the new communication and information technologies sector and its impact on labour markets and new qualifications are the subject of a study currently being conducted by the consultancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC). Likewise, the tourism sector, attracted by Brussels' leadership role, already counts for 30,000 jobs in the region but could be developed further in a substantial way, according to a recently concluded study by the Brussels Labour Market and Qualifications Observatory (Observatoire bruxellois du marché du travail et des qualifications). Finally, the sector of enterprises with a social purpose is the subject of a study investigating its ability to create employment. This same study also aims to identify opportunities to capitalise on the sector of "proximity services".

The parties involved in the TEP have requested this set of sectoral studies. Among these parties, the social partners, expressing themselves collectively through the Brussels Economic and Social Council, have underscored the important issue of matching the qualifications required by the new jobs to the training of job-seekers within the regional population. They insisted, during the elaboration of the TEP action plan, on the need to understand better the labour needs of enterprises, enabling the adaptation of job-seekers' training to such needs.

Commentary

The experience of TEPs is an interesting example of the emergence of new policies in the management of employment. It perhaps also shows the way to the new "arenas" wherein the social partners may need to invest their energies in the future. The partners' involvement, however, requires that they adapt.

First, in these settings the social partners are often confronted with novel issues, such as the fight for equality of opportunity. They are also invited to examine the diversification or revitalisation of a regional fabric considered in its social, educational and economic dimensions. The issues and the territorial focus do not correspond to those that traditionally prevail in industrial relations systems.

Second, the partners must reflect on the manner of their participation in this type of initiative, which represents a transition from an "interaction mode" centred on negotiation to one that is much more characterised by discussion and deliberation. This transition means that the purpose of TEPs is more oriented to the "project management" of matters pertaining to employment than to the "joint regulation" of these matters based on settling differences between employers' and trade unions' demands.

Last, in these settings the social partners are confronted, through participation in a partnership that encompasses a broader diversity of players, with other economic and social doctrines. They must thus clarify their discourse and the ways in which they think. The experience of TEPs could thus act as a catalyst for the different reform movements that characterise the European social partners today, leading them to take into account interests that transcend the restrictive boundaries of the world of work and the enterprise. (Xavier Leloup, Institut des Sciences du Travail-UCL).

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