Employers, unions and opposition weigh in on government plans

Summary

Now that the federal government coalition agreements have been announced, everyone is keen to voice their opinions on the outcome, with the opposition sharply critical and employers noticeably content

Flemish government will save money

The policies announced by the new federal government have come under fire from trade unions and opposition parties but have been welcomed by employers. The policies were announced yesterday after the four coalition parties reached agreement on forming a federal government led by French-speaking liberal Charles Michel.

In an interview with VRT radio, Flemish socialist party president Bruno Tobback said that families will foot the bill for measures contained in the coalition agreement. He said that the government’s new tax break – an increase of €250 in the amount that can be claimed for employment-related expenses – was outweighed by increased expenses that families would have to pay.

He also criticised the decision to raise the retirement age to 67. “This will be the first measure we will revoke when the Flemish socialists are back in the government,” he said.

Groen leader Kristof Calvo said that the new government had made choices that were “inequitable and unfair.” He criticised the decision to raise the pension age and said that there were other ways to shore up the pension system. “The negotiators haven’t necessarily made the best choices, but rather choices … that sound good if you are a right-wing conservative politician,” he told VRT.

“A coherent narrative”

The main Belgian unions also voiced strong opposition to the new direction of government policy. The raising of the pension age would deprive young people of jobs and prevent the creation of new jobs, said Chris Reniers (pictured) of the ACOD union. It would also unfairly penalise workers who were engaged in heavy manual work, he added.

“Growth is our only form of social security”

- Voka chair Jo Libeer

Reniers also said that the new government was introducing policies that favoured the rich. “The federal government is Robin Hood in reverse,” he said. “They are robbing the poor and giving to the rich.”

But the Belgian employers’ federation VBO warmly welcomed the new policies announced by the government. “They contain all the elements needed to increase growth and create jobs,” said Pieter Timmermans of the VBO. “The agreement provides a coherent narrative that will strengthen our competitive position,” he added.

The Flemish employers’ federation Voka was equally supportive of the new measures. “Growth is our only form of social security,” said Voka chair Jo Libeer. “The decision to focus first on economic recovery is therefore the right choice.”

Part of the employers’ approval of the government agreement stems from the skipping of salary indexation in 2015. Two percent of the usual cost-of-living pay rises for all workers will be scrapped. This regulation will also save the government of Flanders an approximate €200 million next year as it will not have to automatically give pay rises to civil servants. 

Now that the federal government coalition agreements have been announced, everyone is keen to voice their opinions on the outcome, with the opposition sharply critical and employers noticeably content.

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Belgian government

Belgium is a federal state made up of three regions and three communities, based on language (Dutch, French and German). The federal level is responsible for issues such as justice, defence, finances and foreign affairs – matters that affect the entire country. Belgium is also a constitutional monarchy.
Regions - The regions are comparable to American states or German Länder. They are geographical entities, responsible for matters related to their territory, such as public works, environment and economy. Belgium’s three regions are the Flemish Region, the Brussels-Capital Region and the Walloon Region.
Communities - Communities are responsible for matters that directly affect residents, such as education, welfare and culture. Belgium’s three communities are the Flemish Community, the French Community and the German Community.
Flanders - Although regions and communities do not overlap exactly, the Flemish Region and the Flemish Community have merged into the Flemish government. Its official language is Dutch. The Flemish Parliament sits in Brussels, which is the official capital city of Flanders (as well as Belgium).
11

population of Belgium in millions of people, with 6.2 million living in Flanders.

6

number of state reforms that have resulted in the federal system as it is today.

4

number of years for which the federal House of Representatives and the Senate are elected.