Government given grace until mid January
During a meeting between the government and its social partners entrepreneurs and unions, the unions expressed dissatisfaction with the way federal Pensions Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne Open VLD approached pension reforms. The government admitted shortcomings on certain points such as communication and deliberation in its rush to finalise reforms. “We have explained our stance with the necessary consideration for the other players from within society,” Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo PS explained afterwards. Van Quickenborne was sparing with comment. The unions reminded of the government’s commitment to resume social deliberations following today’s public service strike and the voting in parliament on pension reform. The president of the Association of Belgian Entrepreneurs Pierre Alain De Smedt has been asked to find ways to get social dialogue back on track, but so far the unions have no reason to be optimistic as the social and fiscal reform package will be approved in Parliament anyhow. Deliberations afterwards will therefore only focus on the implementation of reforms. The secretary of the French-speaking wing of the Socialist union ABVV, Anne Demelenne refuses to be confronted with a fait accompli. The response from within the ranks of the Christian union ACV is milder. “We still have room for negotiation, but without a commitment from the government on the outcome.” Marc Leemans, future ACV president, noted that “it will take some time before confidence is restored”. Deliberations will only assume early in the New Year. The unions are keen to evaluate the results by mid January so that they can decide whether to organize the national public and private sector strike which has been planned for 30 January. The outcome of yesterday’s meeting was insufficient to make them call off today’s public service strike anyway. In the run-up to the official day of demonstrations, train and bus commuters experienced numerous strike actions yesterday. In Wallonia there were hardly any trains running, which caused delays and even the cancellation of some peak-hour trains in Flanders. Similar problems were experienced in the Antwerp harbour, where sea pilots prepared for the strike. Meanwhile party leaders in Parliament have taken the initiative to prepare pension reforms for MPs in a work group to create a new, uniform parliamentary statute in collaboration with the regions and make it impossible to retire after a 20-years career in Parliament. Members of Parliament should set a good example, it is said.