Just hours after the Federal Government concluded weeks of debates by announcing the labour deal agreement, politicians, companies, trade unions and labour experts are heavily criticising the decisions made.
The agreement aims to boost flexibility for employers and employees, guarantee individual training rights for all and better protect platform workers whilst boosting e-commerce in the country and raising the employment rate to 80% by 2030.
During a press conference, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said it would make people and businesses stronger; however, politicians, trade unions and business federations have publically disagreed.
Opposition from politicians
While members of the majority parties praise the deal, opposition parties condemn it. Leader of the right-wing N-VA party Bart De Wever argued that the agreement reached shows that Vivaldi is "the government for the non-working."
"After having increased the unemployment trap last year, the federal government is now proposing a labour deal without a single noteworthy activation measure," he said on Twitter.
Na vorig jaar de werkloosheidsval te hebben vergroot, stelt de federale regering nu een arbeidsdeal voor zonder één noemenswaardige activeringsmaatregel.Andermaal wordt bewezen: Vivaldi is de regering voor de niet-werkenden. De PS dweilt met Vlaanderen de vloer aan. pic.twitter.com/cBa6nXgjfm — Bart De Wever (@Bart_DeWever) February 15, 2022
The far-right Vlaams Belang party called the deal an "empty box" and argued that the much-needed reform is no more than a total failure. It stressed that it will not tackle the long-term unemployment and lack of job creation in the French-speaking part of the country.
"No measures are being taken to activate the many Walloon unemployed and so Flanders continues to pay the bills. This labour deal has become what we could expect from it: an empty box with a Walloon-socialist bow around it," MP Hans Verreyt said.
Meanwhile, the Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB) criticised the voluntary approach of the agreement. "You can 'voluntarily' do night work without a premium or 'voluntarily' work 10-hour days. Trade unions are left out of the equation," the party's leader Raoul Hedebouw said on Twitter.
Falling short for trade unions
Various trade unions, which have for years called for labour reform (particularly for the e-commerce and platform work sectors) have also publically denounced many measures included in the deal.
"We are astonished that the government so easily hooks up with the demands of the employers," a statement from the managers of BBTK-SETCa, ACV Puls, CNE and ACLVB-CGSLB trade unions reads. They argued that the government's vision is short-sighted, especially regarding the distribution sector.
"The thinking must be done from the beginning, from production to delivery of goods (the Deliveroo courier)." The pilot projects for night work were also regarded with scepticism.
Unizo, the association of the self-employed, expressed its disappointment with the fact the labour deal was reportedly concluded without consulting the heads of the social partners. It also criticised the lack of measures to encourage job seekers and inactive people to participate in the labour market.
"These measures are insufficient to reach the employment target. We are missing the opportunity here to really lead the labour market into the 21st century," Managing Director Danny Van Assche said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Voka, the Flemish network of enterprises, said the deal contains too few impactful measures to alleviate the tightness on the labour market and increase the employment rate.
"This deal is a missed opportunity," managing director Hans Maertens stated. "The labour deal weighs far too little and offers no solutions for the many companies that are crying out for new employees today."
Technology federation Agoria's expert in labour market policy Jeroen Franssen agreed, saying companies "expect decisive measures to boost the number of people entering the labour market so that we can give the economy a firm boost," but that the labour deal fails to do so.
Pieter Timmermans, executive of the Federation of Belgian Enterprises (FEB), also questioned whether the deal would help Belgium achieve 80% employment.
Ik luisterde zopas naar @radio1be , @rtlinfo en @RTBFinfo over #arbeidsdeal. Elke partij steekt pluim op zijn hoed: meer flexibiliteit, meer rechten, sterkere bescherming, ... ⏩Cruciale vraag : zal BE hiermee 80% werkgelegenheid bereiken? E-commerce deal helpt, maar de rest?— Pieter TIMMERMANS (@PieterVBO) February 15, 2022
The tweet reads: "I just listened to the news about the labour deal. Each party takes credit for it: more flexibility, more rights, stronger protection, ... Crucial question: will Belgium achieve 80% employment with this?"
Not all bad news
However, Timmermans did welcome the decision made on e-commerce (giving companies the opportunity to start pilot projects to develop their e-commerce activities), which was likewise warmly received by trade federation Comeos.
"All our members have a digital strategy, but they lacked flexibility in the organisation of work to offer a good alternative for e-commerce organised from abroad," Dominique Michel, CEO of Comeos, said. "Now that the federal government is offering more flexibility on the Belgian labour market, we can turn this trend around."
Both Voka and Agoria welcomed the decision to allow employees to voluntarily start working for a new employer or to follow a training course during a notice period, saying it can lead to people being unemployed for less time.
This proposal, alongside the measures to introduce more flexibility, was also welcomed by Unizo. "The elaboration concerning the four-day working week, the activating dismissal law and the transition trajectories are balanced and respond to the current spirit of the times," said Van Assche.
Finally, trade unions welcomed the measures aimed at improving work-life balance, such as the right to disconnect which will be extended to private companies and the four-day working week.