Belgian officials set for pay boost as government joins global warnings of ‘war for talent’ for civil servants

By on 05/07/2022 | Updated on 05/07/2022
Denominations of Euros fanned out on a flat surface
Around 65,000 Belgian’s federal employees have not received a pay rise in line with inflation 20 years

Belgium’s minister of the civil service has struck a preliminary agreement with trade unions to boost civil servants’ reward packages by as much as 7% after a prolonged pay dispute.

The deal marks the first time in 12 years that a broad agreement on pay has been reached between the government and the trade unions representing civil servants.

Petra De Sutter, who also serves as deputy prime minister and a member of the Green party, said the deal was vital amid recruitment challenges that the government – like many others – are facing. “This agreement responds to the war for talent that all employers are confronted with today.”

De Sutter added that it was “only natural” that federal employees’ wages increase in this context. The package, which represents between a 3% to 7% pay boost, is made up of an €200 (US$209) gross extra income per month, as well as higher end-of-year bonuses, meal vouchers and a wage surcharge.

De Sutter said officials such as guards, reception staff or logistics staff would benefit especially from the change, which with government approval could come into effect from 1 January 2023.

Read more: Belgian civil servants granted ‘right to disconnect’ after working hours

Belgium’s social security system typically adjusts pay in certain sectors to reflect inflation, meaning that once the consumer prices rise to a certain level, a 2% bump to the incomes of Belgian civil servants, pensioners, and the unemployed kicks in. However, there has been no formal agreement between the government and trade unions.

The preliminary agreement meanwhile is set to feature in the government’s agenda in autumn. It is part of a range of government initiatives for officials that also include initiatives to foster a better wellbeing culture and promote better feedback within the civil service. There will also be a particular focus on the training programmes and competitive wages for roles such as IT specialists and analysts.

A war on many fronts

De Sutter is the latest politicians or public servant to warn that government needs to take action to win a “war for talent”.

In April this year, Patrick Hetherington, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC)’s first assistant commissioner, described his organisation’s own “war for talent” amid a competitive job market.

To attract new talent to the commission, he said, the APS would need to renew its focus on workforce values that improve diversity and collaboration. Hetherington also stressed the need for APS to build in capacity to respond to events quickly and in ways that meet the needs of Australian citizens.

Read more: ‘The war for talent’: APS warns of challenges in attracting staff

In the US, the Biden administration too has sought to promote better federal workforce values, pledging to boost staff engagement and increase pay. In February this year, the Office of Management and Budget told US federal agencies to plan for a 4.6% pay rise for employees in 2023. The boost is the biggest federal workers have received since the George W. Bush administration granted federal employees the same increase in 2002.

The move came amid the administration’s broader push to increase employee engagement and restore public trust in institutions.  

In a bid to improve pay equity among federal staff of various racial and gender identities, the Biden administration also said it would also tackle the practice of using previous pay rates to set salaries for federal government jobs, though did not commit to ending it.

The US fiscal year 2023 budget outlined a request for US$418 million for the Office of Personnel Management salaries and expenses account. This marks an US$88 million increase on the 2021 enacted level, which the administration said would allow “further collaboration in support of the federal government’s strategic workforce planning and talent acquisition functions”.

Read now: Biden to ‘address use of salary history’ in pay deals to tackle inequality

By contrast, UK civil service trade unions this year responded angrily to the government’s announcement that officials’ pay would rise at an average of 2% over the course of the year, up to a limit of 3%. The Public and Commercial Services Union pointed out that UK civil servants had seen their living standards fall by around a fifth in real terms over the last decade, leaving them £500 (US$655.6) worse off on average as a result.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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