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    No increase in minimum wage this July 1

    Members of FGTB/ACVV on the march © Belga

    An increase of 1.1% in the minimum legal wage will not take place as planned on 1 July this year, after the socialist union FGTB/ABVV refused to sign the agreement to implement the increase.

    The rise in the minimum wage was agreed earlier in the year by the Group of Ten – a body made up of unions and employers with representatives of farmers and the self-employed, which determines private sector employment agreements by negotiation. The same annual talks also agreed on an increase of 1.1% in salaries in general, a small advance on an initial offer of 0.8%, spread over two years.

    However when the union negotiators took the deal to their members in early March, the Christian and liberal unions were supported, but the members of the FGTB rejected the agreement with 56% of votes against.

    Since then, positions have remained the same, despite the intervention of government advocates. Given that the deal can only go through if agreed by all parties, the increase is now cancelled.

    At the time, an official for the Christian union commented, “something is better than nothing”. In the end, nothing is what has emerged.

    According to FGTB president Robert Vertenueil, the increase would mean about 10 cents an hour more for those on minimum wage, which currently stands at 10 euros an hour. “This weak increase is tantamount to indecency not to say disdain for workers,” he said in a statement released by the union. The FGTB took part, he said, in talks on the impact of various different scenarios in good faith, and in “a serene and constructive climate”. Nonetheless, nothing could be agreed upon, with the result that the measure can be implemented, but only voluntarily.

    The FGTB is pleading for the relaunch of discussions in a serene setting, with the object of arriving at a concrete solution that responds to the legitimate expectations of thousands of workers. And that, with a view to bringing about a substantial increase in the minimum wage for more than 60,000 people in jobs.” The union’s demand for an increase of four euros to 14 euros an hour. 

    The Christian union CSC/ACV, the largest of the three main union groups in the country, said it was “incomprehensible that anyone would let such an improvement for the lowest paid fall by the wayside”.

    The Flemish organisation for the self-employed, Unizo, said it was “stunned” at the reaction. The agreement, the organisation said in a statement, would provide “62,867 employees with an effective increase in their minimum wage. On top of that, 182,102 employees would receive a reduction in their personal social security contribution.” The sectors most affected – independent retailers, small supermarkets, the taxi sector, unskilled workers, agriculture and the arts – would see a reduction in jobs as a result of the cut in social security costs attached to the minimum wage increase, the organisation said.

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times