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Belgium: What do you need to know about the new Belgian Labour Deal?

The Belgian Federal Government recently reached an agreement on the reform of the labour market. The deal includes various social policy measures, which will result in legislative changes in employment law. The measures are, for now, merely part of a political deal. The national social partners will still be asked to give their advice. Afterwards, the measures will then need to be transposed into legislation or national collective bargaining agreements.

Below, we present an overview of the most important elements.

  1. 4-day work week

It will soon become possible for employees to perform a full-time work week via 4 days of work, instead of the standard 5 days. In this way, the worker could have a 3-day weekend or e.g. a rest day in the middle of the week. The employee will have to work for 4 days at 9,5 or 10 hours (in case of a 40-hour work week) per day. A 10-hour workday will only be possible if a collective bargaining agreement allows for it.

This flexibility is possible on a voluntary basis and at the written request of the employee. The employer can refuse the request. However, this refusal will have to be motivated. The formalities regarding the motivation of the employer are not yet clear.

It will also be possible to work less one week and more another week (alternating schedule). Again, the employer may refuse this (but the refusal will have to be justified).

The request of the worker can be renewed for a period of 6 months.

  1. Right to disconnect

The right to disconnect (the right to be offline) will be implemented in the private sector (it already exists for workers of the federal authorities). The right will be applicable to each company with at least 20 employees. As a result of the right to disconnect, it shall be illegal for an employer to pressure his workers to respond to professional e-mails and messages outside their working hours or even to remain reachable or online.

The employer will have to conclude a collective bargaining agreement to make it explicit that the workers should not read messages or e-mails outside of their working time. Employers will have until 1 January 2023 to make this a reality. It is still possible however, that the national social partners will conclude a national collective bargaining agreement, so that companies will no longer have the obligation to conclude a CBA themselves.

Employees and leading employees will also have to be trained in, or at least be made aware of, the appropriate use of digital tools.

The right to discuss a disconnection from the employer was first introduced in 2017, but this new measure takes it a step further and grants the right itself to disconnect to the worker.

  1. 7-day notice period for flexible work schemes

The employer will have to inform employees with flexible working hours about their working schedules, 7 (working) days in advance. This measure promotes better coordination and balance between a worker’s private and professional life. Some collective bargaining agreements may derogate from these minimum standards at sector level. Until now, this notice period was 5 days, and was often reduced to the absolute minimum of 1 day by a collective bargaining agreement.

  1. Transition project to another job

When the worker is dismissed with a notice period, he will have the possibility to ask the employer for a transition to another job (with another company). The employer can also offer such a transition directly. The advantages of this system include, specifically, that the worker can immediately start in a new position, the new employer can employ the worker faster, and the old employer will receive a compensation (as he is still paying the remuneration of the worker during the notice period). At the end of the transition project, the new employer will have to offer an open-ended employment contract. If he does not, he will have to pay a compensation to the worker.

  1. Improving the worker’s employability after dismissal

If the worker is dismissed with a notice period of over 30 weeks, the worker will have the right to spend the last 1/3 of the notice period engaged in activities that aim to improve his employability (e.g. training for specific professional skills). The worker will maintain his remuneration during these activities.

  1. Training days for employees

Each worker will have an individual right to 3 days of training from 2022; 4 days as from 2023; and 5 days as from 2024. These training sessions must be paid by the employer. In order to make this possible, companies must submit an annual training to the works council or the trade union delegation. Companies with less than 20 workers are exempt from the obligation to draft a training plan.

  1. Better protection for platform workers

Workers in the platform economy (Deliveroo, Uber,…) will receive greater protection. A new rebuttable legal presumption of an employment contract will be introduced for these workers. The presumption looks at 8 different criteria, 5 of these criteria are copied from the recent legislative proposal of the EU Commission regarding platform workers.

The presumption will apply if 2 of the 5 criteria are met, or if 3 out of the (total) 8 criteria are met. This presumption is rebuttable on the basis of the four general criteria provided for in the Labour Relations Act of 2006.

Next, all platform workers, even if they turn out to be self-employed, will benefit from a mandatory “occupational accident” insurance. The platforms will bear the costs of these insurances.

  1. Evening work in the e-commerce sector

It will become possible to work from 20h to midnight in the e-commerce sector on the basis of a collective bargaining agreement (with the approval of one trade union), which will automatically adjust the internal work rules.

Even if companies in the e-commerce sector do not conclude a CBA, they can start a pilot project for a maximum of 18 months. Workers can participate on a voluntary basis. Moreover, in this case, the internal work rules do not have to be changed; there is however, a mandatory procedure which involves the consultation of the works council. Additionally, the work schedules must be communicated to the social inspection (in advance) and to the joint committee.

A refusal of workers to participate in the pilot project should not lead to detrimental measures by the employer.

The workers will receive the normal premium for night work or overtime pay, if they work between 20h and midnight.

  1. Diversity monitoring

Every two years, the Belgian Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue Division will provide data on diversity within sectors to the joint committees. On the basis of this sectoral data, companies will have to report on the diversity situation within the company. If there is an unjustifiable difference between the results on sector and company-level, the employer will have to draft an action plan to improve diversity within the company.

Van Olmen & Wynant will continue to monitor developments and will keep you informed at such time that these measures are expected to be implemented, whether by legislation or collective bargaining agreements, accordingly.