De Coninck: “Salaries should increase more quickly at the start of a career”

Employment minister Monica De Coninck (SP.A) wants to put a system in place in which salaries increase more quickly at the start of a career before stabilizing the salary scale. That is exactly the opposite of the current system. The minister made this proposal in an interview she gave us, “I think that we have to discuss a system in which young people, after five years of experience, see their salaries increase rapidly. It’s at that point that they need money the most. They will have children, and they will have to purchase a home. After that we could have a more stable system, when they are 35 or 40 years old.”

Revolutionary? Not really, according to the minister, “There are examples in academics. The scale increases until 42 years old, and then it stabilizes. The same system exists in the Scandinavian countries. It’s no coincidence that many people in these countries work until they are 65. Older employees aren’t any more expensive than 30 year olds. The salary cost is almost identical.”

The minister makes clear it’s not a question of lowering salaries in the system she would like to implement. “No, there’s no reduction in salaries. Over an entire career the total remuneration would be the same. It would just grow in a different way.”

While she calls this change something she would like to see, she knows the difficulties it poses, beginning with its cost. “This reform would cost money, because we can’t lower the salaries of older workers currently in the system. We have to change the system today to reap the benefits in 20 or 30 years. For the time being we don’t have the money to implement it.” 

Another obstacle: this reform attacks a taboo. “Yes, it’s taboo. It’s often a problem in my area of responsibility. Many people are afraid of losing something because for decades, they earned a lot. But, I also think that is why we need change. When we wait too long to change, we get to a point when it’s too late, and that’s when we lose a lot. It’s all a question of balance: evaluating what’s needed in the future and finding a way to bring about the change to obtain those goals.”

There is a risk of hesitation on the part of unions, but the minister is not throwing any stones at the workers’ representative organizations. “If there is hesitation, it may well come from politicians or from the people themselves. When I talk about this possibility, when I say that it might be a good thing to put a flatter career system in place, lots of people tell me ‘you’re going to take away my pay.’ They’re afraid but they know that we are living in a society that’s changing. Either we’re afraid and do nothing, or we move ahead and create tomorrow’s society.”

BERNARD DEMONTY

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