Disputes hit newspaper sector

June 1997 saw two separate industrial disputes in Belgium's newspaper industry - one involving professional journalists and the other affecting the PVD distribution company.

Following failure to agree in their current round of negotiations, about 400 journalists belonging to the Belgian Union of Professional Journalists (Algemene Vereniging van Belgische Beroepsjournalisten, AVBB) carried out a protest on Thursday 5 June 1997 in Brussels. The former collective agreement had expired in March and negotiations between the journalists and the Belgian Union of Newspaper Publishers (Belgische Vereniging van Dagbladuitgevers) had not led to any new agreement.

The main point of contention is the differential pay rate for newly recruited journalists. Journalists hired after 1 January 1994 have salaries that are between 10% and 30% below the pay scales of their longer-serving colleagues. Philip Leruth, president of the AVBB, has declared that the key issue is not a demand for increased pay but for the introduction of non-discriminatory pay scales.

By chance, the dispute between journalists and newspaper publishers coincided with another dispute between employers and employees in Belgium's largest newspaper distribution company, Persagentschap Vervoer en Distributie (PVD-AMP). A spontaneous strike erupted on Tuesday 3 June after negotiations for a new collective agreement had broken down. However, once negotiations had resumed, a settlement for the 900 employees was reached which covers three main points:

  • a switch to a 35-hour working week without loss of pay, with negotiations in 1999 to consider the possibility of a 32-hour working week;
  • PVD will link the reduction in working time to the hiring of 30 extra employees; and
  • a pay increase of 6.1% in the form of an annual bonus, amendments to the pay scale and an increase in fringe benefits.
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