Social partners sign agreements on wage bonuses and early retirement

As a result of political tensions, Belgium’s new federal interim government was not elected until the end of December 2007. Despite the political crisis, the national social partners did not abandon their talks and managed to conclude a range of new national intersectoral collective agreements on early retirement rules and result-based wage bonuses.

The National Labour Council (Nationale Arbeidsraad/Conseil National du Travail, NAR-CNT), during its plenary meeting of 20 December 2007, approved four new agreements which implement important parts of the intersectoral agreement 2007–2008 (BE0701019I).

New system of wage bonuses

The NAR-CNT firstly concluded Collective Labour Agreement No. 90 (in French, 105Kb PDF), concerning occasional or non-structural result-based wage bonuses. This agreement establishes a framework within which companies and sectors can introduce result-based wage premiums under a financially advantageous system. The bonus can amount to a maximum of €2,200 and is not liable to tax by employees. However, the employer has to pay a social security tax of 33% on the bonus, but can include the entire sum paid as a cost when paying corporate tax. The result on which the bonus is based has to be agreed on in a company-level agreement before the system can be introduced. This result can be a financial one, although it can also be related to another target – such as obtaining an International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) label. The bonus cannot be granted on an individual basis and must always apply to groups of workers.

Implementation of Generation Pact

The NAR-CNT also signed three important agreements on early retirement (Nos. 91 (in French, 62Kb PDF), 92 (in French, 25Kb PDF), 93 (in French, 41Kb PDF)), as part of its efforts to implement the so-called Generation Pact (BE0602304F).

The Generation Pact – which is in fact a law passed in December early retirement less attractive for both workers and employers. In addition to its comprehensive active ageing strategy, the pact also contains measures to tackle youth unemployment and welfare poverty. 2005 – includes a range of measures with the aim of reducing early retirement without changing the legal retirement age or current benefits already granted. Measures include limiting the number of people taking early retirement, encouraging employers to retain or hire older workers, as well as making

The new 2007 agreements stipulate the exceptions to the general, stricter rules provided for in the Generation Pact regarding early retirement possibilities. The exceptions firstly concern the possibility to opt for early retirement from the age of 56 onwards after a long career of about 40 years of service. This agreement therefore applies to people who start working before the age of 18. A second group of workers can also opt for so-called ‘medical’ early retirement, when they are 58 years old and have reached a minimum career of 35 years. This group is composed of disabled people, those who are restricted in their work capacity as a result of an occupational accident and people who have worked for a period of time in a sector with a high asbestos risk. A third agreement offers people the possibility to take early retirement when they reach the age of 56 and have worked at least 20 years of night work in their career. These agreements are supported by additional rules and guidelines on how to include periods of unemployment, career leave or part-time work in the calculation of career seniority, and on how to calculate the benefits a worker is entitled to receive from their employer on top of their early retirement benefit (which is in fact an unemployment benefit).

New early retirement possibilities

These new agreements mark the final phase of the Generation Pact’s implementation. This 2005 pact provided for a more rigid arrangement of early retirement possibilities in Belgium. The social partners and country’s legislator took almost two years to fully implement these arrangements. From 1 January 2008, most of these arrangements will be entirely operational. The following table summarises the new arrangements regarding early retirement. These arrangements are supported by additional rules on tax and/or social security tax liabilities and on whether or not the person opting for early retirement has to remain available in the labour market.

Early retirement possibilities in Belgium from 2008 onwards
This table gives an overview of possible early retirement schemes in Belgium from 2008 onwards.
Minimum age Career/seniority requirement Collective agreement
  From (year) Men Women  
60 years 2008 30 years 28 years Intersectoral agreement No. 17 (encompasses every worker in the private sector)
2012 35 years 28 years
2016 35 years 30 years
2020 35 years 32 years
2024 35 years 34 years
2028 35 years 35 years
58 years 2008 35 years 30 years Needs to be provided for through a specific sectoral or company-level agreement (which is the case, especially in industry)
  2010 37 years 33 years
  2012 38 years 35 years
  2014 38 years
  2015 40 years
58 years and working in an occupation with difficult working conditions* 2010 35 years Company-level/sectoral agreement and intersectoral agreement
58 years and with a ‘medical’ problem 2010 35 years Intersectoral agreement No. 91
55/56/57 years Prolongation 38 years Company-level/sectoral agreement and intersectoral agreement (which already exists)
56 years 2008 40 years Intersectoral agreement No. 92
56 years; construction sector worker with a medical certificate Prolongation 33 years Sector and intersectoral agreement
50 years (in case of company downsizing) Prolongation 20 years or 10 years in sector Specific company-level agreement (regulated by strict rules on labour market availability and outplacement procedures (BE0208301N)

* More specifically, working for a long period in a system with atypical working time arrangements – for example, shift work, night work, irregular working time schedules.

Source: ADMB Social Secretariat

Guy Van Gyes, Higher Institute for Labour Studies (HIVA), Catholic University of Leuven

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