The government of Belgium approves the 4-day work week (and allows employees to ignore the boss after working hours)

The government has approved a package of labor reforms that includes the possibility of spreading the weekly full-time hours over four working days, but also the right to disconnect and to train

In Belgium, employees will be able to choose the four day work week. They will also be able to turn off their devices and ignore their boss after working hours, without fear of repercussions.

This is established by a package of labor reforms approved by the government, which includes the possibility of spread the weekly hours of a full time over four days working without changes to the salary and the right to disconnect at the end of the scheduled service time. Real progress for all workers! said the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labor Pierre-Yves Dermagne. However, the bill must be reviewed by federal legislators before being enacted, so it is not yet known exactly when the new rules will come into effect.

What are the main points of the agreement reached? They can be summarized in these principles: concrete right to the training of workers; greater safeguards for platform workers; balance between professional and private life; employment strengthening measures.

The right to training it allows the development of a plan to support and exploit the skills of workers in all companies with more than 20 employees. Regarding the protection of platform workers (such as Uber, Deliveroo, Just Eat Takeaway etc.), they will receive stronger legal protection, will be entitled to insurance against accidents at work and will be subject to more defined rules for what it concerns the definition of self-employed or not.

But the corpus of rules that makes the most discussion is what it is about flexibility of working hours and organization of work for employees: workers can in fact ask the employer to condense the number of hours per week (38 hours) into 4 days instead of the traditional 5, for a period of six months. Then they can decide whether to continue like this or go back to the five-day week.

In addition, the obligation is established for companies to communicate to workers who are subject to shifts the working hours at least one week in advance. Employers will still be able to refuse employee requests for a shorter working week, but they will have to justify their refusal in writing.

Timetable flexibility has also been formulated as parenting support: it will help women who find themselves having to take care of children and elderly parents to maintain a balance between work and private life, but it will also benefit the labor market as a whole, says Beatrice Delfin-Diaz, president of the Belgian Association of women business leaders.

Another important part of the reform is the right to disconnect, which public workers have already experienced in January. Now it will be available to all employees of private companies with more than 20 employees. The boundary between work and private life is becoming more and more porous. These relentless demands can harm the physical and mental health of the worker, Dermagne said. Say goodbye to emails, phone calls and messages outside of business hours: employees will be authorized not to respond and to ignore them.

The Covid period forced us to work more flexibly, the job market had to adapt to this – said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo -. The goal is to give people and companies more freedom to organize their working hours. Often we are much less dynamic if we compare ourselves to other countries. If you look at the data, the percentage of Belgians who work between 20 and 64 years is lower than the European average: they are 71.4% against 73.6% (Eurostat data). In fact, the aim of these new rules is also to push the labor market.

In 2021, experimentation with similar projects had already taken place in Spain and Iceland, but other countries are also thinking about it, such as the proposal from Japan and Scotland.

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