Single status: Manou Doutrepont’s opinion
Three years after the framework law on single status entered into force, where are we now?
In an attempt to answer this question - and others - we met with Manou Doutrepont, former Director of Social Affairs at Belgian food industry association Fédération de l’industrie alimentaire belge (FEVIA) and currently a consultant specialising in social consultation.
Looking back to the Law on Complementary Pensions (LCP), initially, the idea was to develop the supplementary pension for everyone to achieve a degree of equality.
Manou Doutrepont: With the LPC, Minister Vandenbroucke did set change in motion in the various sectors, particularly for blue collar workers. However, the restriction on the payroll standard caused things to grind to a halt*. What has happened is that, besides automatic indexation and the increase in cash that workers are expecting, since 2005 the margin has always proved too tight to develop the supplementary pension. Over the last decade, the available margin has been completely used up for cash and there has been very little growth in premiums.
How do you feel about the concept of a "single status" as introduced in the De Croo law?
MD: To my mind, it’s more a case of harmonising supplementary pensions rather than a “single status”. As I see it, harmonisation is a wider concept, which started with the harmonisation of dismissal rules and waiting days.
AG Insurance’s portfolio, we have experience of companies that have harmonised. What is your experience of this?
MD: The harmonisation process predates the law, and the law speeded the process up a little. Mostly, we’ve seen a levelling up which, to my mind, is one means of achieving tangible progress, but at a high price. Needless to say, the payroll standard must be honoured throughout the process.
What is the situation right now?
MD: The only update of which we are aware is a report by the National Labour Council on the sector plans, which reaches a pretty unambiguous conclusion: nothing is happening. Why? Because it’s a complex issue, technically speaking, and at the same time it has many implications for cross-sectoral dialogue. And unfortunately, nobody has a clue how far advanced the harmonisation of business plans is.
Which means we’ve reached an impasse?
MD: Probably. The people involved in dialogue at the sector level are facing a huge challenge: achieving harmonisation by the end of 2023 at the latest:
If no solution is forthcoming at sector level, the problem will have to be solved at the corporate level. The employer will be in charge of simultaneously harmonising the sectoral regimes that apply at its company, and business plans. We’re still looking for a solution that does not derail payroll costs or cause social tensions. The cross-industry parties have been no help so far.
We’ve already lost three years. There are still three rounds of pay negotiations ahead of us. I predict a complete stalemate in 2024. Either the legislator will find the solution to the problem that it created by interfering even more than it does now in wage formation. Or the National Labour Council will demonstrate the same proactive approach as it did when sorting out the issue of the guaranteed interest rate.
* The payroll standard is set every two years and determines the margin by which payroll costs will increase.