On March 29, Monday, workers in Belgium organized a national strike demanding better wages, fairer contracts, workers’ rights and dignity. Workers from various sectors, including manufacturing, metallurgy, transport, education, health care, and others joined the strike. The call for the mobilization was given by major trade unions, including the General Labor Federation of Belgium (FGTB/ABVV) and the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CSC/ACV). Progressive political parties like the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) and the Communist Party of Belgium (PCB/CPB) expressed solidarity with the strike and took part in the mobilizations across the country.
The strike was called by unions after contract negotiations in key sectors failed due to employers’ unwillingness to hike wages. The unions have rejected the offer of a meager 0.4% hike for two years by the government and the employers, and have called for a significant pay rise. They have also called for ensuring the right to early retirement for employees at the age of 58 as opposed to at 65 which is the official retirement age in the country. They also demanded a substantial pay rise for the health workers.
According to Workers’ Party president Peter Mertens, the employers and the ruling class have been denying a much-needed pay rise for the workers citing the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, he pointed out, “The COVID-19 period is not going so badly for everyone; nearly half of the listed companies in the country have raised their dividends. They can find up to 6.3 billion euros for shareholders. Why would we only find crumbs for our wages?” Mertens asked.
The PTB/PVDA has initiated a petition demanding an amendment to the 1996 Wage Standard Act which prevents any real increase in wages in the country. As of March 29, at least 13,343 people had endorsed the petition to amend the act and seeking a real increase in wages. Citing a recent study by the PTB/PVDA, party spokesperson Raoul Hedebouw said that due to stagnancy in wages in the country, every worker in Belgium has lost a minimum of 1,456 euros since 2014. “In recent years, there has been a transfer of wealth to the richest. Over the last five years, workers have seen 40 billion euros in wages disappear into shareholders’ pockets,” he claimed.