Leterme kick-starts Belgian social talks
The Belgian Prime Minister, Yves Leterme (Flemish Christian democrat), is meeting with representatives of the employers and the unions on Monday.
The meeting is an effort to launch a new round of social talks.
Talks broke down last year on disagreement about a harmonisation of regulations governing both blue and white collar workers. In recent days both unions and employers have not minced their words.
The Prime Minister believes that a new round of social talks is on the cards. He's prepared to give the unions and the employers until March to fine-tune their positions.
Agreement on a harmonisation should be reached by June, when the government will also discuss the extension of measures taken to boost the economy.
After the summer holiday talks will focus on an increase for social benefits. Consultations about a new two year labour agreement for the entire private sector will also start during the second half of the year.
"Social dialogue is necessary"
On Monday morning Mr Leterme saw union representatives and during the afternoon he met with employers. The Premier is looking for a way of re-launching consultations between the two sides of industry.
After the meeting with the unions Mr Leterme said the Belgian economy the required a social dialogue: "Of course there are differences, but it's up to the government to close the gap."
Luc Cortebeeck of the Christian ACV union was upbeat after the meeting: "We've made our positions clear. We want to resume the talks."
The federal government's performance has come under attack from the Flemish socialist opposition. SP.A leader Caroline Gennez told VRT Radio that Belgium needed an active government that was prepared to make choices and restore confidence between employers and unions.
Ms Gennez noted that Belgium boasted the worst redundancy arrangements for blue collar workers in the EU and insisted that these workers deserved a better deal.
Alexander De Croo of the governing Flemish liberals urged the government to take action and draw up a framework for talks. Mr De Croo believes more should be done to allow employees to juggle the needs of work and family life. He's also in favour of greater guidance for people who become unemployed.