Belgian workers demand scrapping of Wage Margin Act of 1996

Belgian trade unions view the 1996 Wage Margin Act – which establishes a strict procedure to negotiate a maximum average wage increase – as a major impediment to raising salaries

May 16, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Workers Protest - Belgium (1)
Mobilization in Liege. (Photo: via PTB Liege)

On May 13, workers in Belgium organized mobilizations in the cities of Charleroi, Liege, La Louvière, Arlon and Wapi, among others, calling on the government to reform the anti-worker Wage Margin Act of 1996 and increase wages. Thousands of workers and trade unionists participated in the mobilization called by the General Labor Federation of Belgium (ABVV/FGTB), Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (ACV/CSC) and the General Confederation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium (ACLVB/CGSLB). Activists of political parties like the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) and Communist Party of Belgium (PCB/CPB), as well as several student and youth groups, expressed support and solidarity with the workers’ mobilization.

Working class sections across Europe including in Belgium have been organizing frequent mobilizations to protest the ongoing cost of living crisis. Trade unions and progressive political parties have been demanding a general increase in wages to mitigate the crisis marked by skyrocketing food and energy prices. Belgian trade unions view the 1996 Wage Margin Act – which establishes a strict procedure for the Belgian social partners to negotiate a maximum average wage increase – as a major impediment to increase wages in the country. 

Workers have also demanded that the government include the maximum number of working class households under social benefit schemes, ensure parity in wages between men and women, a minimum wage of EUR 14 (USD 15.11)/hour – EUR 2,300 (USD 2,482.62) per month and a minimum pension of EUR 1,500 (USD 1,619.10) per month, as well as reduction of VAT on energy to 6%. The unions have given a call for a major mobilization in Brussels on June 20.

The PTB/PVDA stated that “unions are right to take to the streets…[the bills are high while the wages are low] ..We feel this every day. But not the ministers, it seems…Let’s block prices not wages.”

In their joint statement regarding the mobilization of June 20, unions said, “Housing, heating, food, fuel… Prices are exploding and making life more and more expensive. The problem is that incomes are not rising at the same speed, as wage increases are severely limited by the Wage Margin Act. Even in companies that make big profits, the law prevents us from negotiating more. The cost of living has become an issue. Wages are too low to allow all households to fill their shopping carts!”

“The CSC, the FGTB and the CGSLB are calling on politicians to become aware of the situation and amend the law on wages. 87,390 people have signed our petition. Parliament is now obliged to start a debate on the law on the wage standard. We need to keep up the pressure, which is why we are organizing a big demonstration on 20 June,” the unions added.

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