Employers want reduced protection against sacking for union representatives
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Employers want reduced protection against sacking for union representatives

Unions at work. The law offers representatives protection against dismissal. © Belga

The association of Belgium’s bosses, the Federation of Belgian Enterprise (FEB) has called on the new federal government to make work of changing the law which protects union representatives from being sacked as a consequence of carrying out their function.

The FEB considers the current level of protection disproportionate.

In the course of their duties, union representatives often clash with company management, which could, in theory, lead to punitive consequences. To prevent that sort of pressure being exercised by employers on worker representatives, the law offers them a measure of protection.

Included in that is a possible fine for unfair dismissal, which can amount to up to eight years salary. Employers claim this instrument prevents them from dismissing any representative even if the offence in question has nothing to do with their union responsibilities.

The protection allowed to union representatives also extends to candidates in social elections, who even if not elected, enjoy the protection for the same four years as those who are elected. According to the FEB, that provision leads to some people standing as candidates for no reason other than to obtain protection against dismissal.

Finally, the FEB opposes the so-called “occult period,” when the identity of candidates is kept secret, but all candidates are protected against dismissal during that period, which lasts 30 days. The problem here is that there is no way of knowing who is and who is not a candidate during that period, which effectively makes all firings impossible, the FEB says.

The Federation would prefer to work out these problems on a professional level, by negotiation with unions, for example within the Group of Ten which brings together the social partners. If that fails, however – as seems likely – the FEB has called on the new government, when it is finally in office, to turn its attention to the problem.

The next round of social elections takes place in May next year and concerns some 6,000 enterprises and 9,000 organs within them, including company boards and works councils. The federal employment ministry has produced a brochure laying out the procedures to be followed.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times