Trade unions and employers’ associations failed on Friday to reach an agreement on measures to offset staff shortages caused by the rising number of coronavirus infections.
The number of Covid-19 infections in Belgium is skyrocketing as a result of the highly infectious Omicron variant – on Monday, the highest number of new cases in one day was recorded since the start of the pandemic – and despite the relaxed quarantine and testing rules, this is resulting in staff shortages across many sectors.
Employers and trade unions met on Friday to negotiate exceptional flexibility measures in the workplace to prevent labour shortages stemming from the rising number of infections, and ultimately to avoid companies from being forced to close their doors, but failed to do so, according to Belga news agency.
For employers, coming to a decision is an urgent matter. They are asking for overtime work to be made more flexible for people already working in affected businesses and to be able to hire additional staff.
However, the unions fear the additional flexibility might become structural, so they want the measures to be temporary and proportional. Both sides plan to continue the talks next week.
Relaxed rules or specific measures
The rise in infections among staff is having a worrying impact on the Port of Antwerp, which risks having to close down temporarily, according to reports from De Standaard.
Many companies connected to the port have warned they are at the limit of what is workable, as there are not enough dockworkers available to man the cranes for the loading and unloading of containers.
The top executive of the Antwerp port, Jacques Vandermeiren, has said that the rules for isolation and quarantining need to be further relaxed.
In certain sectors, specific measures have been implemented to avoid them from coming to a halt. Flemish residential care centres, where infections among staff are resulting in record-high absenteeism, and other residential facilities can for example deploy asymptomatically infected staff to guarantee care s a last resort.