Expatica news

A four-day workweek? Belgium takes the plunge

Belgium is giving employees the right to ask for a four-day workweek under a Covid-era shake-up of its labour laws, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on Tuesday.

“The Covid period has forced us to work more flexibly — the labour market needs to adapt to that,” he told journalists after an overnight negotiation of the changes among ministers.

The four-day workweek is the most eye-catching change. It would allow employees to clock up 38 hours of work over four days instead of five, opening the possibility to permanent long weekends, or a day of parenting. All without any reduction in salary.

The flexibility principle it carries would also allow an employee to work a higher number of hours in one week to have a much lighter week the next.

However any request needs to be approved by the boss — meaning that, in practice, such managed flexibility would only be an option for those working in big companies, where the workload can be more easily distributed.

The measure will not be immediately available. Unions will have their say on a draft bill before amendments are made, then the legislation will be scrutinised by the Council of State advising the government, before the parliament votes.

Observers expected it to come into effect around the middle of this year.

According to the OECD, the average usual workweek in Belgium is 35.5 hours. That compares with 36.5 weekly hours in France, 38.7 hours in the United States and 36.3 hours in Britain.

EU member Belgium follows countries such as Iceland and Japan, which last year tested four-day working weeks.

Other reforms agreed by the Belgian government included individual employee access to training, and a test programme allowing night-work for employees in the e-commerce sector.