In line with tradition, this statement caused, already during the negotiations, a lot of
turbulence, with the press playing a major role on the basis of guesses and strategic leaks.
From a social law point of view, four elements of the General Policy Statement catch the eye: 1)
increasing the competitiveness of our enterprises by eliminating the salary gap with our
surrounding countries; 2) further increasing the competitiveness of our enterprises by lowering the
social charges; 3) increasing job opportunities for younger and older workers; and 4) stimulating
the continued training of the workers. In this newsletter, we will concentrate on the elimination
of the salary gap with our surrounding countries. In the newsletter of end December we will
elaborate on the other elements of attention.
In order to eliminate the salary gap with our surrounding countries, the partners in the social
dialogue are called upon in the first place: they are urged to provide in the upcoming
interprofessional agreement (IPA), which should normally be entered into at the beginning of next
year, that during the lifetime of the IPA (in principle 2 years) no salary increases, other than
salary index increases and category increases, will be applicable.
By doing so, the federal government scores three times by one single hit: 1) it does not set the
partners in the social dialogue against itself by not deciding itself, over and above the heads of
the partners in the social dialogue, on a delicate subject such as the salary moderation; 2) it
avoids the tricky item of a (temporary, unique) index skip by blocking the system of automatically
linking the salaries and the social security allowances to the consumer price index; and 3) it can
maintain, head up, that it did not impose a (total) salary freeze.
Nevertheless, the fact that the government calls upon the partners in the social dialogue in the
first place in order to exclude salary increases in the years to come, does not imply that the
government leaves total freedom to the partners in the social dialogue: a review of the law of 26
July 1996 to promote employment and to safeguard preventively the competitiveness is kept as the
big stick; proposals within that context are even announced by the end of the year.
One will recall that this law of 1996 created a mechanism aiming at measuring the increase of the
salary cost in the surrounding countries and at keeping the increase of the salary cost in our
country within the same limits, the final purpose of this mechanism obviously being the avoidance
of an (increasing) salary gap with the surrounding countries. During the final years of the 90ties
and the early years 2000, this mechanism seemed to be efficient. However, the last years a strict
implementation of the mechanism was progressively lost out of the eye, resulting in ... again an
increasing salary gap. It seems like Di Rupo (I) is now determined to reactivate and to optimize
The untouchable taboo of the system of automatically linking the salaries and the social security
allowances to the cost of living index is formally not affected. However, that does not imply that
the mechanism will survive without any changes. In the Policy Statement corrective measures are
very prudently – almost in a disguised way – announced by the confirmation that the government “…
will see to it that the index will reflect the real consumer behaviour of households in a better
and accelerated way.” This refers most probably to an intention to modify the calculation of the
index in such a way that it increases less rapidly.
Such an exercise was already put into practice in the past by the introduction of the health index
and by linking the salaries to this health index rather than to the consumer price index. Within
that context certain products were excluded from the calculation of the index, as a result of which
the index increased less rapidly (and therefore also the salaries and the social security
allowances). As a result of that operation, the health index is now largely two points lower than
de consumer price index: for the month of October 2012 the health index amounted to 119.87, while
the consumer price index amounted to 121.79
Although nothing is officially known, it is to expected that the government Di Rupo (I) will
introduce measures with comparable effects. By way of example, rumours circulate that also prices,
applicable during sales periods, will be taken into consideration for the calculation of the index.
Finally, the question remains to what extent the measures aiming at eliminating the salary gap with
the surrounding countries constitute an income freeze. The Di Rupo government firmly maintains that
such is not the case. Compared with measures taken in the course of the 80ties by one of the
Martens governments, the present measures seem to be rather soft. At that time, not only the global
salary masses of enterprises were examined, also individual salary arrangements were scrutinized
(and could lead to sanctions). Anyhow, based on the text of the General Policy Statement, the
present situation does not constitute in any way a global “income freeze”, but rather a “salary
A scrupulous follow-up of the measures yet to come will of course be necessary in order to
guarantee a continued efficient service to the employers / enterprises.
Would you like to learn more about this subject?
Contact our experts or telephone +32 (0)2 747 40 07