The country’s three main trade unions – socialist, Christian and liberal – have issued a joint call for a general strike on 13 February, following the collapse of talks on pay with government and employers.
The discussions were taking place within the Group of Ten – which is made up of five representatives of the three unions and five representatives of employers, including the Federation of Belgian Enterprise (FEB) whose director also chairs meetings of the group. The government, although not formally a member of the group, often takes part in meetings because of its economic interest.
According to a report by the Central Economic Council, salary increases over the next two years should be held to a maximum (aside from inflation) of 0.8%. That fell far short of the demand by unions of 1.5%, and when no middle ground could be found, unions called a strike.
The intention is, unions said, for the strike to cover all sectors, and the whole of the country.
Prime minister Charles Michel and employment minister Kris Peeters are both attending the World Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland, from where they issued a call for the social partners to continue to find a solution to the impasse. Peeters also pointed out that it is impossible for a caretaker government like the one currently in place to come forward with new proposals.
“There is a lot at stake. This is not only about employers and pay rises. It’s also about the competitive position of businesses and an increase in benefits. I’m calling on the parties not to be so quick to hang their heads. They have to set everything in order while understanding what is at stake, and what political framework we are now living in.”
The Brussels Times