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The Belgian government’s ‘Labour Deal’: what employers can expect

21/02/2022
The Belgian government’s ‘Labour Deal’: what employers can expect

On 15 February 2022, the Belgian federal government reached an agreement on the ‘Labour Deal’, i.e. a package of measures that aims to get more people into work and have a better work-life balance for employees. The most striking measure, which has also been discussed in the foreign media, is the introduction of a four-day working week. But other measures, including: working according to a varying weekly regime; “transition paths” in which employees can already start working for another employer during their notice period; a redeployment package for employees with a notice period of at least 30 weeks; an individual training right; and a right for employees to be offline, immediately stand out as they will have a significant impact on employers.

We list, in bullet-point-style, the most important measures for you, based on the federal government’s press releases, since the text of the draft bill itself is not yet available. The social partners will now advise on the measures, following which the draft bill will have to be voted upon in parliament.

1. The introduction of a 4-day work week

    • Full-time employees will have the option to work their working week during 4 rather than 5 days. This does not mean a reduction in the overall weekly working hours, but rather performing the same working time during 4 longer work days instead of 5.
    • Employees can work a maximum of 9.5 hours per day, if this is stipulated in the work rules. Also 10 hours a day – which is necessary in a system of 40 hours a week with 12 working time reduction days - is possible, but a company CBA must then be entered into.
    • The procedure for introducing such a regime is cumbersome:
      • First, the employer must introduce the system in the company by amending the work rules. The employer thus decides whether or not it would like to facilitate a 4-day work week.
      • Once the system has been introduced, the initiative lies with the employee who, if he/she wishes to make use of the system, will have to submit a written request to the employer.
      • A request is made for a 6 month period, and can be renewed.
      • The employer may refuse the request, but must justify its decision. If the employer agrees to the request, then a written agreement must be entered into that contains a number of mandatory provisions and a copy of which must be submitted to the Health & Safety Committee (or, in its absence, the trade union delegation).
    • An employee filing a request would be protected against dismissal for reasons related to his/her request.

2. The introduction of a varying weekly working regime

    • If the employer introduces such a system in the company, then the employees will also be allowed to opt for a varying weekly regime, i.e. to work more one week and have more time off in the next week. This measure is mainly aimed at divorced couples with co-parenting responsibilities.
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    • As with the 4-day work week, the initiative lies with the employee and the same cumbersome introduction procedure must be complied with.

3. The earlier announcement of variable working time schedules for part-time workers

    • Variable working time schedules for part-time workers must, in principle, be notified to the workers 5 working days in advance, unless a sectoral CBA provides for a shorter period of at least 1 working day. The notification period will be increased from 5 to 7 days, but exceptions by sector-CBA remain possible.

4. Transition paths: workers can already start working for another employer during their notice period

    • Workers will have the option to already start working, on a voluntary basis, for another employer (‘user’) during their notice period. Such work will be organised by the temporary employment agencies or by the regional employment agencies VDAB/Forem/Actiris.
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    • During this 'transition path', the initial employer continues to pay the employee's wage, but will be able to obtain full or partial reimbursement from the new employer (‘user’) according to the agreements between the two employers.
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    • The new employer (‘user’) is obliged to hire the employee with a contract of indefinite duration at the end of the transition path. If not, then the new employer (‘user’) will have to pay compensation to the employee.

5. Redeployment measures for 1/3rd of the notice period

    • The Unified Employment Status Act of 2014 already provided for a general framework to increase the redeployment of terminated employees with a notice period or an indemnity in lieu of notice of at least 30 weeks by converting 1/3rd of the dismissal package into redeployment measures. The joint committees were given the responsibility of working out the details of this regime, but never came to an agreement. Therefore, the regime remained a ‘dead letter’.
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    • The federal government has now worked out a solution. Employees with a notice period (or indemnity in lieu of notice) of at least 30 weeks will be given the right to devote the last 1/3rd of this notice period to redeployment activities, such as additional training, coaching, outplacement, etc. However, instead of converting 1/3rd of the dismissal package into redeployment measures, these measures will now be financed using the employers’ social security contributions on the salary or the indemnity in lieu of notice for this period, which will be deducted by 4 weeks for regular outplacement.

6. Criteria to determine the status (employee or self-employed person) of platform workers

    • The question of whether platform workers, such as Deliveroo's (bicycle) couriers or Uber drivers, are self-employed or employees has been a ‘hot’ and highly-debated topic for several years now.
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    • In line with what applies in other high-risk sectors, such as the construction and cleaning sectors, a specific list of 8 criteria for platform workers will be included in the Labour Relations Act. If at least 3 of the 8 criteria are met (or 2 out of the last 5 criteria in the list), then an employment relationship will be presumed. However, this presumption can be rebutted on the basis of the 4 general criteria in the law, namely the will of the parties, the freedom of organisation of work and working time, and the possibility of exercising hierarchical control.
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    • In addition, a work accident insurance must be taken out for platform workers.

7. Night work is made easier in e-commerce

    • As was already the case between 2017 and 2019, it will again be possible to introduce night work between 8 pm and midnight in the business by means of a collective bargaining agreement entered into with one trade union, in addition to the existing option of amending the work rules.
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    • Employers will also be able to set up a one-off experiment for a maximum period of 18 months, in which employees can work between 8 pm and midnight on a voluntary basis (without any union intervention) and in which the working time schedules are automatically included in the work rules without having to go through the procedure for amending the work rules. However, the implementation of the experiment would require compliance with a number of burdensome formalities, such as involving the consultative bodies or the workers and the communication of certain information to the inspection services and the competent Joint Committee.

8. Introduction of a right for employees to be offline

    • Each company with at least 20 employees will be required to respect a right for employees to be 'offline' after working hours.
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    • Unless a collective bargaining agreement will be concluded by the National Labour Council or within the Joint Committee that regulates this right collectively, every employer with at least 20 employees will have to lay down rules on ‘deconnection’ at the company level in a company CBA or in the work rules by 1 January 2023 at the latest, and this will be on the basis of a minimum ‘framework’ set by law. Among other things, guidelines must be introduced for the use of digital tools in such a way that the employee's rest, holiday and private life are guaranteed.

9. Introduction of an individual right to training days and obligation for employers to draw up an annual training plan

    • In companies with at least 20 employees, an individual training right (instead of a collective approach) of 3 days per employee per year is being introduced for 2022, 4 days for 2023 and 5 days as from 2024. However, sectors could increase or decrease the number of training days with a minimum of 2 days per employee. For companies with between 10 and 20 employees, the obligation is limited to an average of 1 day per year and per FTE.
    • In addition, every company with at least 20 employees must draw up a training plan every year and submit it to the consultative bodies or to the employees for advice.

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