Be Aware February 2022
New labour deal in Belgium: overview of the key measures
On 15 February, the Belgian government reached an agreement on the labour deal providing for a number of measures creating more flexibility for both employers and employees and aimed at increasing the employment rate to 80% by 2030.
Below is a summary of the key measures provided in the labour deal by the Belgian government.
1. Flexible work / Improving the work life balance
In view of improving the work life balance of employees, the government has put forward the following measures.
The first consists of a right to disconnect for employees in the private sector (public sector employees have already benefited from such right since 1 February 20221). In other words, employers can no longer expect employees to read or respond to messages or emails outside work hours. According to the government, the right to disconnect would apply to all private sector employees, insofar that a company employs at least 20 employees, and should be further detailed at the sectoral and/or company level, through the adoption of a collective bargaining agreement or via the work regulations.
Another measure promoting work life balance concerns the introduction of the four-day work week. In the framework of the four-day work week, employees can work the same weekly working hours spread over four days instead of five days. According to the information currently provided by the Belgian government, employees can make use of this right by submitting a written request to their employer, expressing their chosen work scheme for a six-month period. Even though an employer is able to refuse an employee’s request, such refusal should be justified in writing.
Finally, employees would also be able to opt for a variable working week, by working more during one week and less the next. This measure is mainly intended for divorced parents and employees who are co-parenting.
2. Clarifying the work conditions of platform workers
In line with the Directive proposal issued by the European Commission last December 20212, the Belgian government announced its intention to amend the current national legislation3 in order to clarify the employment status of platform workers (salaried workers or self-employed) and ensure better social protection for those workers.
Regarding the employment status of platform workers, the government is planning to introduce new criteria, in light of which a rebuttable presumption of salaried or self-employed status could be established. The applicable criteria would in part correspond to the criteria proposed at European level, but specific criteria would also be foreseen at national level.
In addition, the government is planning to introduce a mandatory insurance scheme to the benefit of platform workers, aimed at covering work accidents. Based on the information currently available and provided during the press conference held by the Belgian government, it appears that such insurance would be borne by the platform companies and that platform workers would benefit from it, irrespective of their employment status.
3. Facilitating night work in the e-commerce sector
To facilitate e-commerce in Belgium and improve competitiveness with neighbouring countries, the government has announced its intention to relax some restrictions regarding night work.
Night work (between 8pm and midnight) is possible upon agreement of one trade union, provided that an agreement has been reached on premiums/additional remuneration. This night work would need to be formalised in a collective bargaining agreement. This measure will be evaluated after two years.
Moreover, companies within the e-commerce sector would be allowed to introduce a one-time 18-month pilot project (proefproject) during which night work restrictions would be relaxed.
According to this proposal, and provided a specific procedure is complied with involving the employee representatives/employees, e-commerce companies would be allowed to engage personnel to work between 8pm and midnight on a voluntary basis.
After the 18-month pilot project phase, arrangements should be adopted at the company level to further modulate the night work scheme.
4. Changing jobs
It is possible for employees to transfer to a new employer during the notice period in the framework of a transition process, by means of a compensation arrangement to be worked out between the former and the new employer.
Employees with a notice period of more than 30 weeks also have the possibility to convert the last 1/3rd of the notice period into outplacement or training. The latter would, in principle, be funded by employer contributions due on the remuneration during the notice period or on the indemnity in lieu of notice.
5. Variable working schedules
Currently, variable working schedules must in principle be notified to the employees five working days in advance and this term can be shortened by a collective bargaining agreement to a minimum of one day. These terms will be extended to seven and three working days respectively, unless a sectoral collective bargaining agreement provides for different terms.
The Belgian government has foreseen more individual training for employees. As from this year, each employee will be entitled to three training days per year, which will be further increased to four in 2023 and five in 2024. Finally, each company with at least 20 employees must also draw up an individual training plan for its employees.
While increased flexibility is certainly good news, for the time being nothing is set in stone. In fact, some measures have already raised concern among trade unions, and it is not excluded that the aforementioned measures will be further reviewed and updated. In any event, the principles set forth by the labour deal must still be implemented into Belgian legislation, which will likely take several months.
Jascha Kolesnyk / Angela Broux
Is there a right to disconnect in the private sector?
Since 1 February 2022, workers employed by the federal government have a right to disconnect, in application of a Royal Decree adopted on 2 December 2021.4
This right to disconnect implies that a staff member of the federal government - whether contractual or statutory - cannot be contacted outside normal working hours except "for exceptional and unforeseen reasons requiring action that cannot wait until the next working period or if they are on call".
In addition, this Royal Decree provides that employees of the federal government shall not be adversely affected by not replying to or reading work-related messages outside of normal working hours.
It should be noted that the expression "normal working hours" is defined as any period during which the employee is at the employer’s disposal. This, in principle, excludes rest periods.
Thus, the right to disconnect in the public sector is twofold: on the one hand, the duty of the employer to refrain from contacting employees outside normal working hours and, on the other hand, the prohibition of reprisals on the employee who would not react to a professional message or call outside normal working hours.
But what about the private sector employees?
At the moment, unlike other European countries such as France or Portugal, there is no formal right to disconnect in the private sector in Belgium.
However, since 2018, Belgium has had legislation that calls on employers to ensure that new means of communication do not undermine respect for rest periods, holidays, and the work-life balance of workers.
In fact, Articles 15 to 17 of the Act of 26 March 2018 on the reinforcement of economic growth and social cohesion stipulate that the employer must consult with the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work (CPPW) about disconnection and the use of digital means of communication, at regular intervals and whenever the workers' representatives within the CPPW so request. In the absence of a CPPW, the consultation will take place with the trade union delegation and, in the absence of such a trade union delegation, with the employees concerned.
Thus, as far as the private sector is concerned, current Belgian legislation "merely" invites the employer to engage in some form of consultation on disconnection, without any obligation to actually introduce it.
With that being said, the Belgian government has recently announced a package of measures meant to reform the labour market. Among those measures, the government announced its intention to introduce a formal right to disconnect to the benefit of private sector employees. According to the government’s declarations, private sector employees would then benefit from a right to disconnect, to be formalised and modulated at the sector or company level by the conclusion of a collective bargaining agreement.
Further developments on the subject are therefore expected in the near future.
DLA Piper Employment publications of recent months
- Un employeur peut-il utiliser les données biométriques de son personnel? - Frédérique Gillet, HR Magazine
- Wachtdiensten : het Hof van Justitie verduidelijkt het begrip arbeidstijd - Frederic Brasseur, HR Magazine
1 Royal Decree of 2 December 2021 amending the Royal Decree of 2 October 1937 on the status of Civil Servants concerning the right to disconnect (MB, 3 January 2021).
2 Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on improving working conditions in platform work, 9 December 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/
3 And more specifically, the programme law of 27 December 2006 (MB, 28 December 2006).
4 Royal Decree of 2 December 2021 amending the Royal Decree of 2 October 1937 on the status of Civil Servants concerning the right to disconnect (MB, 3 January 2021).