2 – Repeated violations of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index

Belgium

The ITUC affiliates in Belgium are the Centrale générale des Syndicats libéraux de Belgique (CGSLB), the Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens (CSC-ACV), and the Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique (FGTB).

In practice

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Employers continue - in breach of decision of the European Committee on Social Rights- to prohibit or stop strikes by starting unilateral pleas31-10-2016

In a clear violation of the decision of the European Committee on Social Rights, employers continue to make recourse to unilateral pleas (within non-contradictory procedures) to prohibit or stop strikes.
When workers (through their trade union) announce their intention to strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
, some employers immediately go to court. Even before the strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
starts, judges can decide – without hearing the trade unions – that the rights of the employer will be infringed by the strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
and therefore forbid that the strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
take place.

Examples are Infrabel (26th of May 2016); the city of Andenne (4th of March 2016); TEC (June 2016); Sioen Industries (23rd of June 2016); EDF Luminus (30th of June 2016); A. Hartrodt (Belgium) Airfreight; Geodis Calberson Belgium, Nippon Express Belgium & Hazgo (6th of October 2016); FN Herstal (24th of October 2016).

The government undermines trade unions’ right to bargain collectively through the ad hoc amendment of a law regulating overtime work in the food service industry 03-08-2016

The government unilaterally introduced in the hotel, restaurant and bars sector a reform named Program Law II regulating the system of overtime work. In particular, the new law raised the number of overtime work hours per year to 360 and allowed the employer to pay for those overtime hours but just the net amount without any social security contribution and with the possibility for the worker to opt out of the compensation time. Nevertheless, in order for the law to be implemented, a sectorial collective agreement needed to be signed: once the trade unions found such vacuum in the legislation, in order to avoid the implementation of the law eroding workers’ rights, they refused to negotiate the sectorial collective agreement therefore impeding the new overtime limit from becoming effective. The employers of the food service industry denounced such behaviour, and in response the government amended the Program Law II eliminating the need of a collective agreement in the sector, thus overstepping trade unions and their right to bargain collectively.

The government jeopardises National Railroad Company (NMBS) workers’ freedom to choose their representatives03-08-2016

On the 3rd of August 2016, the government enacted the Law concerning diverse measures on mobility, imposing on trade unions at company level the requirement to hold compulsory elections starting from 2018. The above-mentioned legislation does not grant to candidates any protection during the electoral process, unlike the “twin” legislation regulating trade union elections in the private sector. Furthermore, this new law has excluded trade unions (notably ASTB and OVS) – which are not affiliated to one of the three representative national centres – from participating in collective disputes’ resolution mechanisms as well as in social dialogue social dialogue Discussion and co-operation between the social partners on matters of common interest, such as economic and social policy. Involves participation by the state where tripartism is practice. at the enterprise level. This exclusion exposes them to possible penalties in case they want to call a strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
and, naturally, affects in a negative way the level of participation in industrial action industrial action Any form of action taken by a group of workers, a union or an employer during an industrial dispute to gain concessions from the other party, e.g. a strike, go-slow or an overtime ban, or a lockout on the part of the employer. organised by those trade unions.

Several episodes undermining freedom of association occurred in the private sector31-12-2016

During the 2016 union elections in the private sector, a media campaign started trying to undermine freedom of association freedom of association The right to form and join the trade union of one’s choosing as well as the right of unions to operate freely and carry out their activities without undue interference.

See Guide to the ITUC international trade union rights framework
and trade union rights asking for a simplification of the electoral procedure as well as for the possibility to have a clear view of the financial means of the trade unions and access to the list of affiliates. This climate of anti-union campaign resulted in a rising trend of negative attitude towards workers’ representatives, and therefore fewer workers willing to run as candidates during the elections.
The temporary agency workers’ company Accent Jobs went so far as to promise to its employees an extra day of leave and a smartphone if no one would have run for workers’ representatives, so as to exempt the company from the obligation to hold elections due to lack of candidates.

Interferences in strikes10-06-2015

Many employers, in particular in schools, try to intimidate workers by forcing them to put their name on a list of workers who will participate in a strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
. During recent provincial and general strikes, employers offered workers who were not participating in the strikes to work in other offices of the company than the one targeted by the strikers. Warehouse directions used “secret” depots to supply shops when the normal depots were affected by strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
actions.

Intervention in picket01-12-2014

On 1 December 2014, dock workers holding a picket at the harbor of Zeebrugge were arrested when they refused to disperse a picket. Police had asked them to disperse at around 21:30 arguing that police officers were tired after having worked for over 14 hours.

Employers delay collective bargaining negotiations31-12-2014

Each time, employers’ organisations deliberately delay negotiations over the biannual discussion on social security benefits to make them coincide with the biannual negotiations for a national interprofessional collective agreement. This also happened during the discussion for the period 2013-2014. In 2013, the government amended the legislation in order to ensure that if no agreement was reached by 15 September, there will be an automatic adaptation of the social security benefits. Even though this should have prevented employers from delaying negotiations, the new government has refused to implement this law.

If a company decides to have a restructuring and/or mass dismissal, the law imposes a negotiation with the trade unions so as to make it possible for the trade unions to come up with alternatives. In reality however, companies almost never backtrack on their initial decision.

Anti-union discrimination31-12-2014

Employers are still free to dismiss union representatives by paying compensation. A special procedure must be respected when dismissing workers’ representatives on works councils and health and safety committees, failing which the workers’ representatives can ask for reinstatement. However, in practice, workers’ representatives are hardly ever reinstated. Employers prefer to pay out legal compensation, even large sums, rather than respect the special procedure or reinstate wrongfully dismissed workers’ representatives. In 2014, at least 65 union representatives were fired.

In May 2014, a researcher at the University of Ghent published the findings of research whereby fictive application letters were sent to employers. The jobseekers that listed in their CV the affiliation of a trade union had around 23 per cent less chance of being invited for a job interview.

Hacking of union websites15-12-2014
Arrests and detentions26-03-2014

There is also a growing tendency to criminalise social movements in order to discourage protest action. On 26 March 2014, fair workers protested a decision by the municipal authority to change the location of the annual fair by blockading several streets in and around Antwerp. Police violently attacked and dispersed the protesters, and the mayor even called in the army to tow away the caravans used by the protesters. The protestors stopped their action before the arrival of the army.

Interference in strike action16-05-2013

The government threatened workers who were on strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
at Brussels Airport with fines in case they continued the strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
action. Baggage handlers at Swissport went on a strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
in May 2013. On the fifth day of the strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
, the government made an unprecedented public statement to coerce an end to the strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
.
Workers at Rossel Printing Company were reprimanded for participating in the nation-wide trade union protest of 21 February 2013.

Delay of negotiations31-07-2014

Employers’ organisations deliberately delay biannual negotiations over social security benefits. This also happened during the discussion for the period 2013-2014. As a result, the government changed the legislation stating that social security benefits will be automatically adapted if the social partners social partners Unions and employers or their representative organisations. do not reach an agreement by 15 September.
If a company decides to have a restructuring and/or mass dismissal, the law imposes a negotiation with the trade unions on alternative solutions. In practice, companies never agree on propositions from unions. Recent examples are mass dismissals at Arcelor Mittal Liège, Ford Genk, Crown Deurne and Caterpillar Gosselies.

Anti-union discrimination14-10-2013

Employers are still allowed to dismiss union representatives by paying compensation. Workers’ representatives on work councils and health and safety committees can ask for reinstatement after a special procedure. However, in most cases employers pay legal compensation rather than reinstating the workers. In 2013, at least 53 trade union representatives lost their jobs.
For example, Giovanni Caramazza, a union representative at the public transport company TEC, was dismissed in May 2011 after falsely being condemned for assault and battery. On 14 October 2013, the Court of Appeal overruled the judgment and ordered reinstatement. However, TEC refuses to reinstate Giovanni Caramazza despite this decision.

Criminalisation of legitimate trade union activities26-03-2014

On 24 September 2013, 11 activists were found guilty of forming a criminal organization after having entered field with genetically modified crops. An academic researcher who participated in the protest was dismissed from her position at KU Leuven and was only reinstated after a new rector got elected.
On 26 March 2014, workers at the annual fair protested against a decision by the municipal authority on changing the location of the fair and blocking several streets in and around Antwerp. Police violently attacked and dispersed the protesters and the mayor even called the army to tow away the caravans used by the protesters. The protestors stopped the action before the arrival of the army.

Protests20-03-2013

In November 2012, around 250 Belgian trade union members participated in a demonstration in front of the European Seat of Ford in Köln, to protest the closure of their plant in Genk. In October 2013 around 20 of them were accused of “serious violation of the public order.” The public prosecutor of Köln proposed a financial settlement to avoid penalties of up to 10 years in prison.
On 7 February 2013, around 1000 Belgian trade union members participated in a demonstration in Strasbourg to protest the redundancy of 1300 jobs by Arcelor Mittal in Liège. French police brutally attacked the protesting workers. John David, a 25-year old worker, lost an eye due to a rubber bullet fired by police.
On 20 of March 2013, 500 workers from Arcelor Mittal Liège demonstrated in Namur at the seat of the regional parliament. Police used water cannons against the protesters injuring the eye of one worker.

Sanctions for strike action08-10-2012

Public authorities interpret the “municipal administrative penalty” broadly and use it to restrict trade union activities. 20 trade unionists were forced to stop distributing leaflets in front of the Delhaize supermarket in Antwerp when they were threatened with administrative penalties on 8 October 2012.

Infringements on the right to freely organise activities14-08-2013

Arcelor Mittal (Liège) security guards have been using pen cameras to spy on trade union meetings since 2008.

Interference in strike action31-01-2013

Police used water cannons to disperse workers who were striking because of announced mass dismissals at Arcelor Mittal (Liège) in January 2013.

Unreasonable time-limits for bargaining31-01-2013

As a result of pressure exerted by employers’ organisations, the government set a time limit of January 2013 for bargaining on overtime and working hours.

Refusal to bargain in good faith30-09-2012

In September, employers’ organisations deliberately delayed negotiations over the biannual discussion (2013-2014) on social security benefits.

Exclusion of subjects from collective bargaining30-11-2012

In November 2012, the government asked the social partners social partners Unions and employers or their representative organisations. not to agree on wage increases for 2013-2014.

Facing the risk of a negative interpretation of the EU Agency Workers Directive30-11-2011

With a view to the transposition of the European Temporary Agency Workers Directive, employers organisations argued that collective agreements which restrict the use of temporary workers are in breach of the directive. If the government agrees with their argument, the transposition of the directive into national law could lead to an upsurge in temporary contracts to the detriment of permanent workers and of the right of trade unions to bargain collectively, if temporary agency work is de facto no longer considered a specific subject for collective bargaining collective bargaining The process of negotiating mutually acceptable terms and conditions of employment as well as regulating industrial relations between one or more workers’ representatives, trade unions, or trade union centres on the one hand and an employer, a group of employers or one or more employers’ organisations on the other.

See collective bargaining agreement
.

Binding pay rise ceilings restrict collective bargaining01-07-2011

After two trade union organisations rejected the text on the multi-sector agreement, the caretaker government set the “wage standard” (a ceiling on pay rises over a two year period) at 0.0% for 2011 and 0.3% in 2012. On 1 July the Employment Minister confirmed that the standard was binding, that its application would be checked and that infringements would be penalised. Sectoral and company collective agreements cannot therefore grant pay rises above this standard, on pain of being invalidated. In May, two new collective agreements in the stone quarrying industry were rejected on these grounds. In the view of the Liege branch of the FGTB, which negotiated the agreements with the employers, “the Belgian tradition of social dialogue social dialogue Discussion and co-operation between the social partners on matters of common interest, such as economic and social policy. Involves participation by the state where tripartism is practice. is being trampled underfoot”.

Employers still free to dismiss union representatives by paying compensation31-12-2010

A special procedure must be respected when dismissing workers’ representatives on works councils and health and safety committees, failing which the workers’ representatives can ask for reinstatement. However, in practice, workers’ representatives are never reinstated. Employers prefer to pay out legal compensation, even large sums, rather than respect the special procedure or reinstate wrongfully dismissed workers’ representatives.

Non-respect of the 2002 “gentlemen’s agreement” on the peaceful settlement of industrial disputes, right to strike flouted31-12-2010

Despite an informal agreement signed by the social partners social partners Unions and employers or their representative organisations. in 2002, aimed at encouraging conciliation conciliation An attempt by a neutral third party, a conciliator, to aid the settling of an industrial dispute by improving communications, offering advice and interpreting issues to bring the disputing parties to a point where they can reconcile their differences. The conciliator does not take as active a role as a mediator or an arbitrator.

See arbitration, mediation
and mediation mediation A process halfway between conciliation and arbitration, in mediation a neutral third party assists the disputing parties in reaching a settlement to an industrial dispute by suggesting possible, non-binding solutions.

See arbitration, conciliation
over all other forms of dispute settlement, employers have often and abusively called for the courts to intervene, claiming an “absolute emergency”. Rather than enter into negotiation, enterprises file an ex parte application which results in the courts taking a decision before the workers have had an opportunity to plead their case. Heavy fines are foreseen if they ignore these rulings. Appeals are possible, but usually fail.

As a general rule, the courts consider that it is not acceptable to prevent employees or third parties gaining access to the workplace, regardless of whether violence is used in doing so, but judges have issued “preventive” orders even when there is nothing to indicate that such acts would be committed. Furthermore, if trade unions call off a strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
, the courts consider that the dispute is settled and refuse to rule on the grounds for or possible infringement of the right to strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
. The European Trade Union Confederation, ETUC, and the three national trade union centres ACLVB-CGSLB, CSC-ACV and FGTB-ABVV lodged a complaint with the European Committee of Social Rights against this undermining of the right to strike strike The most common form of industrial action, a strike is a concerted stoppage of work by employees for a limited period of time. Can assume a wide variety of forms.

See general strike, intermittent strike, rotating strike, sit-down strike, sympathy strike, wildcat strike
.

Circumventing the law30-11-2009

A special procedure needs to be respected when dismissing workers’ representatives in works councils and committees for prevention and protection at work, or else the workers’ representatives can ask for reinstatement. However, in practice, workers’ representatives are never reinstated. Employers prefer to pay out legal entitlements, even large ones, rather than to respect the special procedures or to take wrongfully dismissed workers’ representatives back. Moreover, the law provides that during the proceedings the contract can only be suspended by the labour court for valid reasons. The courts grant this suspension liberally, therefore the exception becomes the rule.

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