Protests to maintain purchasing power in Belgium: It’s time to protect the citizens

Today, on September 21, Belgian national trade unions rally their members in Brussels to protest over the government’s insufficient measures to protect citizens’ purchasing power in times of surging inflation. CESI expresses its support.

Today, the largest national trade unions of Belgium, the FGTB, CSC and CGSLB, gather with their affiliates at Place de la Monnaie in Brussels to protest over the government’s insufficient measures to protect citizens and workers from the current tremendous energy crisis and help them maintain their purchasing power.

As CESI highlighted in its recent letter to the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the living standards of increasing numbers of citizens across Europe are at acute risk. The unprecedented inflation in the EU and especially the surging energy prices have been hitting citizens and workers hard, leading low- and also middle-income households to poverty or the threat of it. The wealth that people have worked hard for during decades is eaten away in no time.

Against this background, the Belgian trade unions demand affordable energy prices and measures that will enhance the purchasing power of Belgian citizens. Their concrete proposals include an automatic granting of the social tariff on the energy bills, caps on the energy prices, maintenance of lowered VAT on gas and electricity, a ceiling on rents, and an increase in the minimum wage.

However, the latter, in the eyes of the unions, can be only achieved with brave reforms in the national legislation. The ‘Loi de 1996’, a Belgian law on the calculation of wages in the country, provides for a wage increase margin that is no longer adapted to the national and international economic reality. According to the unions, the standard set by the law of ’96 must be indicative and not binding, so that workers are able to regain the freedom to negotiate substantial wage increases when inflation is high.

CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger said: “Against the background of multiple crises and tremendous difficulties for the world of work, bigger wage increase margins are needed. In many European countries, these standards were set many years ago, in periods of prosperity. But today, they don’t reflect our real needs. In our resolution on trade union demands to counter inflation, we made it clear: calls by unions and social partners for statutory minimum wage increases and collective agreements with wage and pension indexations that reflect inflation realities must be taken seriously. Otherwise, we will fail. We will fail as economies and societies at large.”