On October 16, Friday, the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) demanded that the government ensure full income for workers in quarantine across the country. The proposal was made by party deputy Raoul Hedebouw in the federal parliament in the wake of rising distress among workers affected by a new spike in COVID-19. The PTB/PVDA also demanded more back-up funds for the health sector, support for workers in food catering, restaurants, cafes, bars and the hotel industry, and increased social benefits.
Belgium has been witnessing a sharp spike in COVID-19 infections. On October 13 alone, over 10,400 new cases were registered, marking the highest daily rise since the outbreak of the pandemic. On Friday, the government re-imposed night-time curfew and ordered the closure of cafes, bars and restaurants for a month.
Hedebouw said in the parliament, “ministers who were quarantined have not lost a single euro in pay. Workers lose 30% if they are quarantined. I asked the prime minister what he intends to do, and he doesn’t answer anything. It’s time the government took action to secure test results within 24 hours and maintain the income of quarantined workers.”
PTB/PVDA deputy Germain Mugemango proposed in the Walloon parliament on Friday the provisioning of an emergency fund to hire 1,000 people in Wallonia. The Socialist Party-Reform Movement-Ecolo majority rejected the proposal.
Meanwhile, the deputy prime minister and finance minister of Belgium, Vincent Van Peteghem, called for a more proportionate contribution from the country’s millionaires during the current crisis. In this regard, the PTB/PVDA has long been demanding a concrete proposal for ensuring mandatory and fair tax contributions from the rich.
Responding to the minister’s proposal, PTB/PVDA president Peter Mertens stated that “the gap between poor and rich is growing. We need to do something about this urgently, with clear and fair measures. The new government promises an honest contribution from the strongest shoulders. The previous government promised that too. But just as always, it turns out to be an empty box again today.”
Earlier, at the time of the first round of COVID-19 infections in March, the PTB/PVDA had proposed an exceptional Corona Tax on fortunes of more than three million euros, which was a 5% one-time tax on the 2% super-rich people in the country. The party has been insisting that such a move is plausible and required to maintain income and social security during the pandemic, and that the tax would provide 15 billion euros to the government for providing income relief to families during this health emergency.
As per Mertens, “The Finance Minister’s figures are not serious. The contribution of the super rich will only be 0.06%, while their capital grows many times faster just because they have money. It’s high time for a real Millionaire Tax, because someone has to pay for the crisis, and that can’t be the working class.”
Last week, a book titled ‘Ils nous ont oubliés’ (They forgot us) was released by Mertens, in which he describes the crisis inflicted by COVID-19 on the lives of the common people in Belgium, especially the working class. Mertens calls out the thirst for profit of crony capitalists and the complicity of the government despite the pandemic.
The incumbent coalition government’s insensitivity towards the hardships faced by the working class and the overburdened health workers amid the crisis has courted widespread anger and protests.