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Domestic workers protest for better wages and expenses

Illustration picture shows a protest action of household helpers working with service vouchers in Brussels. (BELGA PHOTO JUAN GODBILLE)
05:39 07/12/2021

About 70 domestic helpers and union representatives protested outside the headquarters of the company Daoust Titres-Services in Ixelles on Monday, calling for an increase in travel allowances and an improvement in working conditions. The three unions which organised the protest announced that it would be the first of many planned demonstrations across the country this month.

The testimony of one housekeeper was highlighted by the union representatives during the speeches. "I still haven't received my salary even though we are at the beginning of the month," she said. "I have €0 in my account. I had to cancel my doctor's appointment."

Marina Künzi, permanent secretary of the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions, explained that "several domestic helpers have again testified to the difficulties of their profession. They end up with wages on the poverty line and have to choose between taking care of themselves and giving food to their children, which is not normal in a sector subsidised 70% by the state." The unions say domestic helpers are paid €12 gross per hour and that their average salary is €1,170 net per month.

Peanuts representing the amount of pay received were thrown at the windows of the Daoust headquarters. Negotiations for a new sectoral agreement that began in September are currently blocked and the unions believe that employers in the sector have agreed within the employers' federation Federgon to only do the minimum to meet the demands of domestic helpers.

"They receive a travel expense allowance that is three times lower than the government standard," the unions said in a statement. The increase proposed is limited to two cents per kilometre, while wages are blocked at an increase of 0.4% for the next two years, or €0.05 per hour.

The unions said that while workers suffer, companies continue to reap huge benefits. According to the unions’ statement the Het Poetsbureau agency paid €10 million to its shareholders in 2020 while the Trixxo group made a profit of €5 million that same year.

The protest came on the same day that thousands of public sector workers took to the streets of the capital to call for better wages.

The unions involved stated that while prices for housing, heating, food, and fuel are rising, incomes are not increasing at the same rate and that wage increases are severely restricted by the wage standard law.

The unions stated that when negotiations fail their only recourse is to take to the streets.

Written by Nick Amies