CSC/ACV congress calls for 'fair pay'

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At its congress in October 2002, Belgium's Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CSC/ACV) focused on the issue of 'fair pay'. The whole issue of inequalities in resources and income was debated, and a range of proposals aimed at reducing these inequalities was adopted. The congress also prepared for the coming negotiations over an intersectoral agreement for 2003-4, and agreed a number of changes to CSC/ACV's internal structures, including measures to increase the representation of women.

The Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens/Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond, CSC/ACV) - Belgium's largest trade union organisation, with over 1.6 million members - held its 32nd statutory congress in Ostend from 17 to 19 October 2002. The congress, which is the supreme authority of CSC/ACV, meets at least once every four years; it determines the organisation’s general programme for the coming years, and its attitude to issues of the day. The 32nd congress brought together around 1,000 participants, including rank-and-file activists, full-time officials from sectoral and regional federations, and about 100 Belgian and foreign guests.

In 2002, CSC/ACV decided to debate the issue of 'fair pay' (juste revenu/juiste inkomen) - an issue which had been placed at the top on the agenda 27 years previously, when the 1975 congress was devoted to the 'equitable distribution of income'. CSC/ACV takes that view that the last quarter of a century in Belgium has been marked by growing inequality of income. For example, although Belgium is seen as one of the most prosperous countries in Europe, it also, according to CSC/ACV, has the greatest disparities between the most affluent and the most disadvantaged people. These inequalities are thought to derive not only from a slowdown in economic growth, rising unemployment, economic globalisation and technical progress, but also from a 'weakening desire for equality' in political circles, and in society generally.

CSC/ACV has responded to these concerns by setting itself the objective of stepping up its actions in support of 'equality, justice and solidarity', and to do so 'by eliminating structural inequalities in the economy and in society, and inequalities that last throughout people’s lives'. To this end, CSC/ACV proposes a series of measures relating to incomes policy, and aimed, among other goals, at further shifting the tax and contributions burden from work income towards other incomes. On this point, CSC/ACV proposes the introduction of a tax on 'large fortunes' (above EUR 500,000) and a 'universal social contribution' (Cotisation sociale généralisée, CSG) to be levied on all incomes (ie a tax on income, capital and inheritances).

Still on the income issue, CSC/ACV is in favour of a reduction in the ratio of the lowest to the highest wages. It believes that a ratio of one to three between the lowest 10% of the wages distribution and the highest 10% (including the effects of supplementary benefits and of methods for obtaining more advantageous remuneration through the tax system) is a fair pay differential. The lowest wages should therefore be increased. CSC/ACV also argues for a rise in minimum social benefits and in low pensions, and seeks equal treatment for men and women and the removal of the current link between pay and age (preferring pay progression linked to length of service). Lastly, the union confederation thinks that, in order to be able to pursue an incomes and redistribution policy, it is vital to have better information on incomes and inheritances. In this context, attention was drawn to a bill presented in parliament by a socialist member, Yvan Mayeur, which aims to ensure the publication of information about the salaries and benefits earned by company directors.

The positions adopted at the congress are an indication of the fierce debates that will occur around the negotiations over the intersectoral agreement for 2003-4 during the remainder of 2002 (BE0209301N). CSC/ACV took advantage of its statutory congress to restate its key demands for the new agreement, in terms of employment: these include an improved 'time-credit' system of working time reduction (BE0108360F), more training opportunities for workers, and a single status for blue- and white-collar workers (BE0003307F). The pay talks are likely to be particularly lively. CSC/ACV has reiterated its refusal to bring into question the current system of pay indexation (BE0202308F), and its opposition to the idea of taking into account tax cuts introduced by a current fiscal reform in pay negotiations. The union confederation thinks that this reform is illusory because, under cover of a reduction in federal taxes, other taxes (including local authority taxes) might be increased. This, according to CSC/ACV, would result in each worker paying an average of EUR 65 more in taxes over two years.

The congress was also an opportunity for CSC/ACV to examine the way that it functions. In particular, its programme dealing with internal structures provides for an action plan 'to give women the place that is their due'. Although 42% of CSC/ACV members are women, they are not so easy to find as one goes up the hierarchy: women make up 28% of lay representatives, 16% of full-time officials, two members out of 34 on the national bureau, and only one out of the eight seats on the board that runs CSC/ACV's day-to-day business. The confederation has promised that, by the next congress, at least one-third of the members of all its structures will be women. Structures representing membership groups where less than one-third of union members are women must ensure that women have proportional representation. According to the CSC/ACV general secretary, Josly Piette, 'it is clear that the trade union movement in the 21st century will not grow without the involvement of women in all decisions affecting our future.'

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