Belgians agree new wage deal

Trades unions and employers have reached agreement on the new wage norm. The accord is important because it sets out how much scope for wage increases there is in Belgium. Representatives from both sides of industry agreed that in the private sector and over the next two years wages can rise up to 1.1% above the index that keeps wages in line with the rise in the cost of living.

Rudy De Leeuw of the socialist trade union said the discussions were difficult ones, but that the agreement meant an extra 1.1% in spending powers for workers: "It's good for the economy, good for people and the index top ups are guaranteed for the next two years too!"

End of career schemes will start a little later in workers' careers, but on the other hand there are guarantees that people in demanding trades and with long careers can take early retirement.

Mr De Leeuw insisted that the package contained good news for everybody: "We had retirement pensions in mind, unemployment benefit too, sick pay and cases like single mums with kids. They will be able to make better use of career breaks."

The agreement still needs to be endorsed by the union rank and file, but that is not expected to be a problem.

Employers too are satisfied with the deal. Pieter Timmermans is the head of the Belgian employers' organisation VBO: "The margin for wage increases means that Belgian wages will rise 1% less than in neighbouring countries. This boosts our competitive position and results in jobs."

Over the same period the index top up is expected to be 2.9% meaning people are in line for a wage increase of up to 4% in total.