Belgium Adopts 4-Day Work Week to Try to Boost Employment

Belgium is pushing ahead with plans to adopt a four-day work week, potentially making it the first EU member state to do so.

According to Bloomberg, Belgian workers have "won the right to perform a full work week in four days instead of the usual five...without loss of salary."

Fortunately for employers who can't afford such a transition, they will have the right to turn down workers' request for a 4-day week...provided they can produce a strong argument for doing so.

Employers will still have the right to turn down employees’ requests for a condensed work week, on condition they explain their refusal in writing, Deputy Prime Minister and Labor Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne said Tuesday in Brussels. For companies, it will become easier to introduce evening and night work without prior agreement from all labor unions.
"The goal is to give people and companies more freedom to arrange their work time," Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Tuesday in Brussels. “If you compare our country with others, you’ll often see we’re far less dynamic.”

It looks like the new policy is intended to improve employment in the Belgian economy, as only 71 out of 100 Belgians in the prime working age group of 20 to 64 have a job, which is below the average for the euro zone. It's a full 10 percentage points less than in neighboring countries like the Netherlands and Germany, according to data from Eurostat.

Belgium's seven-party coalition government has set a goal to boost employment to 80% by 2030, something it says it needs to keep its pensions fully funded and to finance future tax cuts.

The Belgian government is also introducing new rules for certain workers, setting out a criteria for designating them as employees regardless of what their contracts stipulate.

According to Frank Vandenbroucke, the Belgian Minister of Social Affairs, the new legislation governing the 4-day work week will be modeled on the European Commission’s December proposal for gig workers.

Belgium isn't the first European country to give workers the option of a 4-day week: the Spanish government has done something similar. Companies are experimenting with the notion to see if it might benefit their bottom lines, as some researchers have suggested.

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