Employers respond to new government's coalition agreement

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In July 1999, the FEB/VBO employers' organisation responded to the coalition agreement of Belgium's new government. It welcomes the new coalition's intention to reduce employers' social charges, but firmly rejects any measures to encourage reductions in working time or any negotiations on this subject. The employers also demand structural reforms of social security.

In July 1999, the Federation of Belgian Enterprises (Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique/Verbond van Belgische Ondernemingen, FEB/VBO) followed the trade unions (BE9907277N) in giving its view on the agreement on which the country's new "rainbow" coalition government is based. Following, the general elections on 13 June 1999, resulting in the defeat of the incumbent Christian Democrat/Socialist coalition, a new coalition has been formed by the Liberals, Socialists and Greens, led by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.

For FEB/VBO, the main national employers' organisation, the government agreement has several positive points :

  • a will to improve the efficiency of public services;
  • an additional effort to reduce employers' social security contributions. According to FEB/VBO, it is imperative that a policy to reduce social charges and to introduce pay restraint through pay norms is implemented;
  • liberalisation of the energy market; and
  • measures in favour of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME s). Projects favourable to SMEs (in areas such as taxes and administration simplification) have also been welcomed by the Self-employed Workers' Group (Groupement des Travailleurs Indépendants, GTI), a small intersectoral organisation of the self-employed.

However, FEB/VBO is firmly opposed to financial support for programmes for the reduction of working time. It also refuses to reopen negotiations with trade union organisations on the reduction of working time. In an interview, Philippe de Buck van Overstraeten, managing director of the powerful metalworking employers' federation, Fabrimetal, added that he welcomed the lack of binding policies on the reduction of working time, "even if, in the government's declaration, the demand for a reduction of working time is still too apparent. We will remain vigilant."

Finally, FEB/VBO considers that the governmental agreement is very weak regarding social security. For the employers, the system's precarious financial balance makes structural reforms unavoidable. However they have been postponed, while several increases in benefits (health, low pensions) have been planned and the government is "rightly" planning "a steady reduction of the tax and special taxes."

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