Bruno Tobback and Rudy De Leeuw opened a series of May Day speeches in the Vooruit building in Ghent, yesterday. Bruno Tobback, the son of Leuven Mayor and former Belgian Interior Minister Louis Tobback, called on his audience "not to fight the wrong enemy."
"This is not about the battle between us and the employers", he said, as he was explaining that social dumping in the transport, building and cleaning sectors should be tackled. Mr Tobback wants to work out a joint agreement together with the employers to put an end to workers being exploited "to show them that we are on their side, at least on this issue."
Mr Tobback also pressed for the introduction of a maximum wage for captains of industry. The government should only appoint managers in state-owned businesses if these agree that their salary will not exceed that of the Prime Minister, Mr Tobback suggested.
The socialist leader also admitted that something has to be done to safeguard our social model and welfare system: more people should be working and this until a later age. "But this shouldn't happen in a way that 99 percent of the people is stepping up efforts to the benefit of 1 percent of the people."
"Hands off of our wage indexation system!"
Rudy De Leeuw, the leader of the socialist trades union ABVV, repeated that he will continue the fight against even the smallest changes to the automatic wage index system.
Wages automatically go up in Belgium when life gets more expensive, but there are talks of changing this automatic indexation system to give our economy an extra boost. Employers' organisations want to scrap the system altogether as it is putting a burden on employers. Others want to make small adaptations. However, Mr De Leeuw wants to protect the workers and rejects all possible changes. "The index is the thermometer of the cost of living. A thermometer does not cause the fever."
Rudy De Leeuw also pressed for higher minimum wages. These should go up with 10 percent to allow the poorest workers to earn some more and dream of a middle-class life. "In the end, this will also be to the benefit of our economy, as they will consume more."
One common message
The socialist trades unions and the socialist party had one clear common message: the lowest wages should go up. The difference between an unemployment benefit and the minimum wage should grow, to make working more attractive again. Socialist figurehead Johan Vande Lanotte says the government could do that by making cheap labour less expensive for employers.