It’s a study in contrasts: Prime Minister Charles Michel, riding a wave of positive of economic indicators, will deliver his annual ‘State of the Union’ address to the Federal Parliament this afternoon, while the country is paralyzed by another strike.
Some public sector trade unions are reacting against the reforms introduced recently by the government, including a pension reform, a change to the employment status of civil servants and the introduction of a ‘guaranteed’ minimum service on the railways. Yet, a more modern and efficient public administration is necessary for Belgium to make meaningful reforms in other policy areas, as we argue in our 2017 Priorities for a Prosperous Belgium.
Although the impact of this strike is less than previous years – there are only limited industrial actions in the private sector – the trade unions are still causing significant disruptions today to businesses and individuals. The public administration has to be made fit for the future, but the unions are taking to the street in defense of the past.
By engaging in constructive dialogue, by collaborating and stepping away from the current confrontational model, all parties can contribute to social peace and have their say on the far-reaching and farsighted reforms that Belgium so desperately needs.
The Michel Government has already shown political courage by addressing longstanding problems from the past. It is up to the social partners to express their courage to break with old habits and reposition themselves as partners for change. Productive social relations are still a missing piece in the puzzle of Belgium’s future.
To improve competitiveness, attract investment and stimulate overall prosperity, Belgium must embrace transformation – the public administration and our system of social dialogue are not exempt.