Hospital 'social agreement' hangs in the balance
13 April 2006, BRUSSELS - A workplace agreement reached between hospital management and staff a year ago following weeks of strikes now hangs in the balance with both parties still divided on certain points.
13 April 2006
BRUSSELS - A workplace agreement reached between hospital management and staff a year ago following weeks of strikes now hangs in the balance with both parties still divided on certain points.
Last year, hospital personnel and - to a lesser extent - staff at convalescent homes wanted the federal government to negotiate a new social agreement for the period 2006-2010. Initially, demonstrations took place, followed by strikes.
The government yielded, but its initial offer at the end of February was rejected by trade unions. The government and trade unions then negotiated late into the night on 6 March to find a speedy preliminary agreement.
The government put more than EUR 400 million on the table, with workers to receive a 13th month bonus of EUR 300 to EUR 400. In addition, the hiring of 10,000 additional hospital and convalescent homes workers was announced.
The worker-representation threshold was lowered to 20 workers (meaning trade union delegations would be allowed in several convalescent homes).
Finally, hospital management were obliged to communicate work schedules one month in advance (with sanctions applying if these schedules were not respected) and replace absent staff without delay.
The text was due to be worked into collective labour agreements and applied according to a strict timeframe. However, while the government's offer had been accepted by trade unions, it had not been negotiated with employers, who were opposed to several points.
Consequently, talks between unions and employers were deferred for month after month and now appear to be at a dead end - unions have walked away from the negotiation table, saying they will not return.
A letter will be sent in the next few days to the two ministers responsible, Rudy Demotte (Social Affairs, Socialist PS) and Peter Vanvelthoven (Employment, Socialist SP.A) to establish union demands.
Unions will then await a response by 26 April, the official 'first birthday' of the original agreement.
The remaining zones of conflict are the worker-representation agreement and the immediate replacement of absent personnel and respecting the schedules' timeframe.
Unions hope that the promised new employees will be partly used to decrease overtime. But employers have balked at this, saying that the improvement of service standards must be the first priority.
[Copyright Expatica News 2006]
Subject: Belgian news