Belgium will implement four-day workweek

While increasing protections for platform workers as well.
Ameya Paleja

The Federal Government of Belgium concluded weeks of debates and worked late into Monday night to bring in changes that will allow four day work weeks in the country, the Brussels Times reported

With changing demands of work during the pandemic years, the nature of work has changed, so have employee expectations from jobs and employment. While many want to spend more time with their families, others want to explore new avenues or spend time improving their skill sets. A four-day workweek provides more flexibility to employees to achieve their desired goals without compromising on their incomes. 

What about productivity?

Experiments at various scales ranging from companies to countries have been conducted in these domains and have convincingly shown that productivity actually rises thanks to more flexible work hours.

In order to retain their pay, employees put in extra hours on the days they work. The Belgian government has also opted for the same route by allowing employees to work up to 9.5 hours every day to compensate for the extra day off. An additional half-hour can also be added to a workday if trade unions and an employer can reach a collective agreement.

Employees can also opt for working additional hours during one week and less hours the next week, which will allow them to balance their work and private lives depending on their individual circumstances and requirements. Employers who do not agree with the flexible work requests must submit detailed, written reasons for their refusal, said a UPI report.  

In addition to reducing workdays, the government wants employers to invest in staff training to add more skilled employees to their job market. Starting this year, employers need to invest in three mandatory training days for their staff, which will be increased to four next year and capped at five days per year from 2024. 

Protecting employees and platform workers

Further protecting employees from pressures of work, the government has extended the right to disconnect to all offices that have 20 employees or more. Introduced for federal employees earlier this month, this regulation prohibits bosses from calling employees after normal working hours.

The debates preceding the announcement were largely focused on platform workers that have the flexibility of working hours but do not enjoy the benefits of employment such as paid time off and health protections. Belgium has announced eight criteria items that test whether the working relationship between platform workers and the platforms is that of authority (employer-employee). Even if three of these criteria are satisfied, the platform will need to enlist the worker as an employee and provide social benefits. 

On its part, the government will extend the Workplace Accident Act of 1971 to platform workers as well, since they are 15 times more at risk to have an accident during work, Belgian Economy Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne told the Times. 

The plans also aim to decrease the time period when employees switch jobs. Allowing them to start their new jobs in the notice period will make it easier and quicker for the Belgian workforce to switch jobs. 

The provisions in the plan will further undergo some changes after feedback from social partners, before heading to the parliament to be made into a new law, The Brussels Times reported.

Apart from Belgium, Scotland and Japan have also been working to switch to a four-day workweek for their workforce.  

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