The background to this Peer Review is the Law of 5 December 1968 on Collective Agreements and Joint Committees which set up the basic structures for the system of social dialogue in Belgium. 50 years later, it remains the cornerstone for the organisation of collective bargaining in Belgium.
Over the last decades, and particularly during the Great Recession, many European countries reorganised their collective bargaining systems, often by decentralising wage bargaining.
Other countries kept the system unchanged, but saw bargaining practices evolve over time. Belgium belongs to the latter category, and also followed another path by legislating on the results of social dialogue – in particular by putting a lower (indexation) and upper (wage norm) limit to the wage growth resulting from it.
Belgium also stands out in other ways. Trade union and employer organisation density is high, many institutions in social security are tripartite and formal consultation bodies have a strong position in legislative procedures.
Nevertheless, the country has a relatively high incidence of industrial conflict, and although agreements on many topics result from a well-established system, it has been difficult to come to agreements on broader, overarching topics or to adjust outdated mechanisms (such as seniority-based wage setting practices).
Moreover, employment rates remain below that of other European countries with equally strong social partner traditions.
Similar to other European countries, the changing labour market has also put stresses on the old system in Belgium, and the relevance and legitimacy of the system has been questioned by actors from within the system as well as external actors.
The 50th anniversary of the Law on Collective Agreements and Joint Committees therefore seems like a good time to use Belgium as a starting point for a reflection on what “effective social dialogue and wage bargaining at the appropriate level according to national specificities” mean to participating countries.
The Peer Review was hosted by the Belgian Federal Public Service (FPS) Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue.