Bouchez on potential sanctions for long-term sick: “You…

©  Christophe De Muynck/id

The federal government’s budget that has been knocked out in the past week is risking sanctions for the long-term unemployed. The measure around this goes too far for some, not far enough for others. MR chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez let in the seventh day there is no doubt about his opinion: “You can’t reach 80 percent of the workforce by being nice.”

Much ink has been spilled about the long-term sick in recent days. A decision was made about this during the budget negotiations: long-term sick people who categorically refuse to complete the mandatory questionnaire about the possibility of returning to work will soon be able to lose 2.5 percent of their benefits. This also applies to long-term sick people who repeatedly refuse to meet with a return-to-work coordinator for no valid reason.

For employers with more than 50 employees, there is also a sanction if they have an excessive number of sick people. The sanction amounts to 2.5 percent of the payroll during a quarter. There is also a sanction for the health insurance funds if they help too few people to find work. The administrative fee that the government pays them is then cut. The regions in turn receive extra money from the federal government if they accompany more sick people to work.

Don’t be nice

There has been some criticism in recent days. For some it didn’t go far enough, for others it went too far. MR chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez came in the seventh day give some explanation. “The employment rate is far too low,” says Bouchez. “We are below 70 percent in Belgium. In Flanders 72 percent, so certainly in Wallonia and Brussels it has to go up. The PS (for those who go too far, ed.) So I have to explain to me how they will get to 80 percent effectiveness. You can’t get 80 percent employed by being nice. You have to activate them, and sanction those who don’t play the game.”

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A common criticism of the potential sanctions is that they are symbolic and will not actually be pronounced. “It’s a starting point,” Bouchez refutes. “We are presenting a positive plan to guide people. But some people don’t play along. It can be the doctor, the employer or the employee. And if so, then sanctions should follow. The goal is to have fewer unemployed people. And we really don’t want to punish anyone just to hurt them. But if people adopt a more positive attitude, you also have to punish people who don’t. I would have liked to have gone further than this, but it’s a great start. For the first time in Belgium, we are going to guide people to get back to work after illness. It is a step in the right direction.”

Rousseau: “Working is not dirty”

Vooruit chairman Conner Rousseau also defended the policy. The sanctions will come, he says, and it will be even stricter than announced. “The social welfare state must be protected. But if we want to expand them, we must ensure that as many people as possible are employed. And the people who want to work, we have to make sure that they can go to work. And yes, we ask you to fill in a questionnaire. I don’t think that’s too much to ask to help them better. But you can’t keep waiting for those who don’t want to be helped. So I think this is certainly justifiable. We are going to have to activate people. Working is not dirty, is it.”

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