Marie-Hélène Ska (CSC): “We have to find the contours of a healthy and positive relationship at work”

Marie-Hélène Ska, General Secretary of the CSC, calls for a long-term reflection on our socio-economic system.

Marie-Hélène Ska is in direct contact with the world of work, which gives rise to the very concrete difficulties encountered by the population. New categories of employees can no longer make ends meet, explains the general secretary of the CSC. “The increase in household fixed costs surpasses indexes and there is fear. For the first time in a very long time, people who work, even full-time, no longer dare to open their mail, for fear of finding bills there. A lot of people don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s causing terrible fear.” Even employees who have been financially spared from the covid crisis are shocked. “With the transitions that are going through the world of work, many wonder where they are going, what is the meaning of work today. We have a vested interest in restoring wages, contributions to the system, restoring breath and work ethic and reinforcing trust in pensions to alleviate the current fear. All of this also benefits business.”

“Our concern is that this loss of political influence will not translate into greater pressure on the population.”

Does the government measure these problems?

We do not want to throw stones at the government, which itself is also affected by the crisis. The current situation is the result of 30 or 40 years in which various states have given up levers such as the currency or the ability to regulate very large companies whose revenues sometimes equal the GDP of a country like Belgium. Our concern is: that this loss does not lead to increased pressure on the population† We want to work together with the government and between social partners on the ecological transition, on labor shortages. In short, finding the contours of a healthy relationship is positive for work and income.

What do you propose to support purchasing power?

Purchasing power is what you have in your pocket at the end of the month and the services you can claim. To follow the evolution of the Bel 20 or to increase the salaries of the bosses who are not capped by 0.4%, the feeling of injustice grows. We believe that companies should be able to negotiate salaries. This would make it possible to get out of the logic of controls. We cannot say that it is difficult for the population and the profits of certain companies explode without a return for the workers. The situations are very different according to the sectors and the companies, but the wage law imposes this 0.4% limit on all companies† Freedom should be given wherever possible, such as in the hospitality industry. Next, it is necessary to find new resources for public services to contribute the incomes that do not contribute enough and to address the loopholes in the tax law and then make the taxation on labor more progressive. For this it would be necessary to know the income that escapes the contributions. In 2022 this is still not the case.

This is not in the coalition agreement…

Neither are the covid crisis, the war in Ukraine and rising energy prices. We have 78,000 signatures to reopen this debate in Parliament. Parliament is sovereign. The idea is not to ask for a general raise in salary. It must be possible to negotiate wages as a matter of priority in two types of sectors. Where significant profits or dividends have been earned. If it is the workers who produce this wealth, it may be necessary to pay less dividends to shareholders and support wages more† Then the sectors where wages are extremely low, such as service vouchers.

Do you understand this fear of companies for their competitiveness?

I understand for quite a few small businesses that rising raw material costs† But explain why other companies pay so many dividends, keep their profits without investing. We must be able to do custom work.

The FEB calls for a tripartite agreement to curb wage indexation. OKAY?

No. Inflation had remained very low since the 1980s. This is the first time that we are above 2%. According to the BNB inflation should fall below 3% from 2023. So we are in a special year. It makes no sense to change an entire mechanism for a given year.

You have not agreed on the reimbursement of commuter traffic. Why?

This is not a problem for employers. 20% of private sector workers receive no subsidy for commuting costs. And the same percentage will receive compensation that does not cover the costs of these trips. The cabinet has given an initial positive signal with an envelope of 30 million, but with one point that poses a problem for us: it wants a formula that costs the employer nothing. If we were to take only workers who travel 50 km a day, we would arrive between March and December 22 with an intervention of 12 euros per month, which is a bit ridiculous. If we want to be a little serious, we need at least 10 to 15 times the government envelope.

“If it’s 30 million euros, the government doesn’t need us.”

If it has to distribute 30 million euros, the government does not need us. If we really want to tackle this problem, we need to look at who is responsible for what. There are still workers who pay to go to work.

Where is Minister Vandenbroucke’s project on the reactivation of sick employees?

The consultation is ongoing and it is very delicate. If we don’t wonder why so many people are sick, we won’t get there. We’re talking about a majority of women and older workers who used to be able to enjoy early retirement and now can’t. This plan comes up against the taboo of career termination. We advocate opening a clear and serene debate on these questions.

“One thing that hasn’t changed, it’s the dominance of economic dynamics over the challenges that are ours.”

Is the current government capable of carrying out structural reforms?

We have overused the term reform, but something has not changed: the dominance of economic dynamics over the challenges that are our own. No steps have been taken to frame the dividends, nothing about the return on capital. We have to ask ourselves what place the economy should have in tomorrow’s world. These reforms can be implemented provided that the political authorities, the social partners and civil society plan with a horizon of 30-40 or 50 years† The consciousness is there. We are working on this between social partners.

The most important sentences

  • “For the first time in a very long time, people who work, even full-time, no longer dare to open their mail, not knowing which accounts there are.”
  • “It makes no sense to change the entire indexing mechanism for a given year.”
  • “The plan of the Minister of Health on the reactivation of sick employees encounters the taboo on career termination.”

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