Unions and employers strike a deal

Belgium's social partners have reached an agreement on pay and working conditions in the private sector. The accord is valid for two years. The agreement stipulates that the difference between blue and white collar workers will become smaller.

Representatives of Belgium's employers and trades unions reached the agreement on Tuesday evening. The accord applies to 2.5 million private sector workers. The social partners presented the agreement to Belgian Premier Yves Leterme (Flemish Christian democrat) at 11:30 on Tuesday night. Talks had been underway for two months.

Unions and employers have agreed to maintain the automatic linkage between wages and the retail price index. In 2011 there won't be any room for pay increases above inflation. In 2012 pay increases up to 0.3% may be considered, though some workers may prefer to accept benefits in kind.

The social partners also agreed to examine the composition of the index. The impact of energy price rises may be modified.

The accord also addresses differences between Belgium's blue and white collar workers. At present the two categories receive differing amounts of holiday pay. Guaranteed sick pay is also different as are provisions for temporary unemployment and dismissal as well as notice periods.

Blue collar workers will also be remunerated from the very first day that they fall ill.

The various systems will be harmonised over the coming years. Protection afforded to blue collar workers will be expanded, though top cadres will receive less in future. Within six years a new system dealing with dismissal provisions should be in place.

White collars workers will in future also be able to sign on for limited periods, when e.g. their business is doing badly and there is less work. This has the advantage that employers are not obliged to sack experienced staff for whom there is no work for the minute. Until now only blue collar workers could benefit from this system.

Early retirement will remain possible from the age of 56, but only for construction workers or for people who have worked nights for 20 years or have been working for 40 years in all.