BELGIUM - One of Belgium's largest trade unions caused chaos in the nation’s capital on Friday by striking over government plans to push back the retirement age from 58 to 60, as a way of easing the pension burden in the country.
The ABVV-FGTB complains that the government has not yet made its position on the future of working life clear and will not even make the texts of its proposal available until October 8.
“This has just not given us time to properly prepare our negotiation strategy,” Luc Voets, head of research in the union, told IPE.
The unions do not think that the retirement age should be extended until the economic conditions in the country have been improved. Voets said that, before talking about lengthening working life, the government should pay more attention to the employment situation of the young, women and ethnic minorities.
Voets added that there are some professions, such as in the construction industry, where making employees work longer is just not possible.
According to Voets, unions also have worries that the government's proposals may result in reducing employer contributions to the social security system rather than generating new means of finance.
On the other side of the negotiating table sit business representatives, which are generally in favour of extending working life as a way of improving the financing of Belgium’s social security system, which is likely to come under significant pressure as demands for pensions increase.
Thomas Compernolle, speaking on behalf of business lobbying group Unizo, told IPE: “We believe it is necessary for more people to work longer so that our very good social security system can continue to be paid for and can benefit future generations.”
Compernolle added that “we need two things: to get rid of costly mismanagement in the system and to find a broader base of finance”.
The strikes run contrary to the position taken by other Belgian trade unions – most notably the Christian worker’s union (RCV) and the somewhat smaller liberal’s union (RCLVB) – who say that they would prefer to wait and see what the outcome of this weekend’s negotiations will be.
Belgium's push to increase the retirement age follows on from calls by the European Commission that people must be encouraged to work longer.
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt will make a statement in the Belgian Parliament on Tuesday about the outcome of the negotiations.