Belgium to give workers a four-day work week

Belgians will have the right to work a four-day week without a loss of salary under a government overhaul of the country’s labour laws prompted by the Covid pandemic.

Original article was published by The Guardian. Please find the link to the article here: Belgium to give workers right to request four-day week | Employment law | The Guardian

Belgians will have the right to work a four-day week without a loss of salary under a government overhaul of the country’s labour laws prompted by the Covid pandemic.

The option for employees to work longer days in order to earn a three-day weekend was among a package of economic reforms agreed within the governing coalition on Tuesday.

Companies can turn down a request by an employee for a condensed working week – under which they will work the same total hours – but employers will need to justify their response in writing.

Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander de Croo, said the aim of the labour market reforms, including new rules on night-working, was to create a more dynamic and productive economy.

“If you compare our country with others, you’ll often see we’re far less dynamic,” he said. “After two difficult years, the labour market has evolved. With this agreement, we are setting the benchmarks for a good economy.”

Four-day working weeks were trailed in Iceland between 2015 and 2019, and it has since become the choice of 85% of the country’s working population.

A six-month trial of a four-day week is due to start in 2023 in Scotland with a £10m fund made available to participating companies by the government.

On Monday, the future generations commissioner in Wales, Sophie Howe, called for the Welsh government to offer the option in the public sector as a first step.

De Croo said his administration needed to encourage more people into work, with only 71.4% of people aged 20 to 64 in a job – 10percentage points lower than in the Netherlands and Germany.

Belgium’s seven-party federal coalition has set a target of increasing the proportion in work to 80% by 2030.

Greater “freedom for the employee” was said by De Croo to be key to raising the employment rate. But rigid rules that have long been opposed by business groups have also been targeted in the reforms.

Companies with 20 or more employees will be expected to offer their staff the option to “disconnect” after working hours, meaning they need not answer calls or respond to emails between 11pm to 5am.

Staff will also be able to request, and expect a reasoned response from employers, should they wish to change their working hours from week to week. Staff on variable hours will also be expected to know their working hours seven days ahead.

However, under the new labour laws, a night-work rate of pay will come into force only after midnight rather than the current 8pm cut-off.

“The Covid period forced us to work in a more flexible way. The labour market had to adapt to this,” De Croo said.

Deliveroo couriers or Uber drivers will also be granted employee rights more quickly under a new approach to self-employment based in part on European Commission guidance on so-called platform or gig work.