Belgian armed forces announce changes in personnel management

Recent changes in the structure and personnel management of the Belgian army, navy and airforce attempt to create greater organisational flexibility and so mark a significant break with the past

The Belgian Defence Minister, Jean-Pol Poncelet, has announced measures that will prompt far-reaching changes in the personnel structure of the Belgian armed forces, covering the army, navy and airforce. The policy directly or indirectly affects about 40,000 military personnel. Mr Poncelet's plans are innovative and rather unusual for the armed forces, which are not normally known for their swift changes in organisational structure and personnel management. The Minister feels, however, that the armed forces should not be exempt from moves towards greater flexibility, currently a prominent theme in labour negotiations in Belgium. Moreover, changes in the armed forces can serve as an example for other sectors of the Belgian economy.

Several reasons are behind the plan. First, the defence department's limited budget and its requirement to invest in new resources have put a freeze on staff recruitment. Second, since the ending of Belgium's compulsory military service, the armed forces have experienced an ageing personnel structure. The combination of these two factors has prompted the chief of staff of the armed services to assess the possibility for changes in staffing matters.

In order to create space for the influx of 1,100 younger people, the following measures have been proposed: part-time work, early retirement and career breaks. These measures aim at gradually discharging redundant staff, and at creating the opportunity to hire young recruits and officers. The policy also fits into a broader objective of modernising the armed forces in all areas, including personnel management.

The various organisations representing personnel within the armed forces have reacted positively to the plans, because most of the measures are on a voluntary basis and because they have managed to negotiate very generous benefits for those employees willing to leave.

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