Team behind ‘Thuis’ sees paid lunch breaks and free internet disappear, but there is more that is difficult for them

The VRT wants Home to an independent production house, but the employees of Flanders’ most popular soap do not like that. With work interruptions, a petition and even a march on Monday on the cabinet of media minister Dalle (CD&V), they make their dissatisfaction clear. There are some obvious reasons why the Hometeam absolutely wants to stay with the VRT.

Peter Dumont

It rumbles on the set of Home. But this time it is not yet another family drama, divorce or attempted murder that causes a stir. The unrest is caused by the savings plans of the VRT. The public broadcaster must realize a saving of 25 million euros by 2025 and therefore wants to Homeand place the seventy employees on the payroll for that program with an external production house.

But that is not to the liking of the employees of the soap. As the end date approaches – January 1, the Hometeam at their new employer – their protest is getting fiercer. But what is the conflict actually about?

The first and most important stumbling block is the work schedules that the employees would be presented with from next year. After all, they look different at the VRT than in the private sector. For example, the lunch break of 45 minutes is now counted as working time. The 15-minute break in the morning and in the afternoon is also recorded as working time. When the employees transfer to a private production house, that kite no longer applies.

In addition, the official place of employment of the Hometeam to be the Brussels Reyerslaan. And that while the studios where most of the shooting takes place are in Leuven. This means that employees – even if they live closer – not only receive a kilometer allowance for the distance between Brussels and Leuven, but that this travel time also counts as time worked.

Add everything together and you arrive at about two hours a day that now end up in the accounts as ‘work’, but which will no longer be the case from 1 January. So more work will have to be done for the same wages.

Money worries

The cast and crew are also concerned about that wage. After all, as VRT employees they are entitled to a number of premiums that threaten to disappear in the private sector. For example, their internet subscription is reimbursed. Good for just over 50 euros per month.

When no catering is provided on the set, they also receive a meal allowance, which is quite good at 16.36 euros per day. The latter compensation would be compensated with meal vouchers after the takeover, although it has not yet been determined whether this will cover the full amount.

Several actors and employees of ‘Thuis’ went on strike on May 31 after the announcement that the soap would no longer be made by the VRT.Image Tim Dirven

And then there is the supplementary pension. This is much higher in the public sector than in the private sector. Also at their new employer there will be for the Homeemployees have a pension plan ready, the VRT management promises. But what exactly that will look like and how big the difference will be with the current system is not yet clear.

Which brings us directly to the third pain point: the uncertainty. Seven months ago, VRT CEO Frederik Delaplace announced his intention to stop the production of Home known to outsource. At that time, discussions were already underway with various interested candidates, but who those candidates are remains a closely guarded secret.

A necessary evil, according to the VRT. Only by keeping the would-be buyers in the dark about their opponents can they get the most out of the negotiations. But that leads to employee frustration.

“On January 1, we should start working for a new employer, but to this day we still don’t know who that is,” says Krist’l Leskens, who works as an image mixer at Home works. “Isn’t that a total lack of respect?”

Leah Thys (Marianne).  Image © VRT

Leah Thys (Marianne).Image © VRT

The trade unions are also disturbed by this working method. They believe that the VRT management is monopolizing the negotiations with the potential buyer. “Such a takeover normally takes place while maintaining the current employment systems,” the ACOD said. “After which the transferee can then harmonize the various systems in consultation with the social partners. What the VRT management in the case of Home does is unseen.”

The latter claim, however, turns out to be incorrect. “It often happens that employment conditions are negotiated before the actual takeover,” says Jan Vanthournout, senior legal manager at SD Worx. At the VRT they also point out that the management received a mandate from the potential buyers to negotiate with the unions. In recent months, both parties regularly sat around the table, but that was not enough to dispel the mistrust.

Ideological view

The last reason why it Home-staff don’t like a move, is the most emotional and therefore perhaps the most important. Regardless of the conditions under which this happens, a large proportion of employees simply do not want to leave the public broadcaster.

Sometimes for practical reasons, for example, many of the employees also work for other programs and love that variety that you only find at a large company such as the VRT. But just as often for ideological views.

“I started working here thirty years ago because I believe in the function of a public broadcaster and because I wanted to contribute to it,” says Leskens. “And now I’m being coldly kicked out here.”

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