Within the framework of its efforts to increase the employment rate of the Belgian individuals between 20 and 64 years to 80 per cent by 2030, the Belgian government has reached yesterday an agreement on a set of measures that should be implemented shortly.
(Re-)training of employees
The government acknowledges the skills shortage in the Belgian labour market and the fact that employees will need to work longer, whilst their roles evolve rapidly. In order to address this shortage, all employees would be entitled to (re-)training days each year, paid by the employer. The amount of days per year will be 3 in 2022, 4 in 2023 and 5 as from 2024.
Further, companies with at least 20 employees would, at least once a year, be required to draw up a training plan, which will be submitted to the employee representatives for their opinion. This plan should lead to an improvement in the skill set of all employees in the company.
Finally, the intention is to better support dismissed employees to find a new job, through 2 sets of measures. Firstly, employees dismissed with a notice period, would have the possibility to request from their current employer a transition programme to a new employer. Under such transition programme, the dismissed employee could start working for a new employer during the notice period and the new employer would potentially compensate the current employer. The new employer would have to hire the employee under a contract with an indefinite duration at the end of the transition programme. Secondly, employees dismissed with a notice period of at least 30 weeks would have the right to devote the last third of the notice period to activities that improve their chances to find a new job (e.g. outplacement programme), while retaining their salary.
Four days-work week and variable work schedule
To boost flexibility and work-life balance, employees could ask to perform their full-time job over 4 days instead of 5, by increasing the amount of hours worked on these days. Employees could also ask to alternate their volume of weekly working hours, i.e. work more one week and less the other week. The employer that refuses a request for flexibility would have to justify its decision. The agreement on the flexibility would be renewable for 6-month periods.
Also, part-time employees with a variable work schedule (e.g. changing each week or fortnight) would be entitled to receive their work schedule 7 days in advance (instead of 5 currently), unless a sector-level collective bargaining agreement provides for a shorter period.
Right to disconnect
Companies with at least 20 employees would be obliged to safeguard their employees’ right to disconnect. Agreements on this subject would have to be made at the level of the company, in consultation with the trade unions, and laid down in a collective bargaining agreement (it is unclear whether, and if so, how, the obligation would also apply to companies without trade union delegation). Such agreement would in particular provide that the company will not expect from employees that they read messages outside working hours.
This measure follows a similar measure that was implemented recently in the federal public sector. It also builds further on initiatives taken at EU-level. In January 2021, the European Parliament (‘EP’) adopted a resolution on the right to disconnect, given that the COVID-19 pandemic showed that home working is blurring the lines between work and private life and is making attempts at having a work-life balance even more difficult. The EP’s resolution which called for the introduction of a right to disconnect in the EU’s new Occupational Safety and Health Strategy and for the proposal of a directive on the right to disconnect. A right to disconnect already exists in a number of EU jurisdictions, including France where it was introduced in the 2016 revision of its Labour Code, making it mandatory for employers to introduce a policy. In Spain, such a right to disconnect was introduced in 2018, following the French example.
In an attempt to clarify the social status of individuals working in the platform economy, the current legal framework would be amended to provide for specific criteria to assess whether those individuals should be categorised as employees or self-employed contractors. 8 criteria, specific to the platform economy, would be included in the law. If a relationship fulfills a certain number (likely 3) of those specific criteria, this will trigger a rebuttable presumption that such relationship is an employee relationship. The rebuttable presumption of employment is in line with the recent proposed EU package of measures to better protect platform workers.
Platform economy workers would also be better protected against work accidents, through an obligation for the platform economy companies to take up an insurance.
The possibility for companies in the e-commerce industry to implement evening work between 20.00 and 24.00 without it being considered as night work would be reinstated (it was already introduced in 2018 but expired at the end of 2019). Such possibility should be provided in a collective bargaining agreement. The extension of this measure will be assessed after 2 years by the National Labour Council.
E-Commerce companies could also implement evening work on an ad hoc basis for one 18-months trial period. Employees would participate in the trial period on a voluntary basis.
Diversity in the workplace
Every 2 years, the Ministry of Work will provide the social partners with data on diversity in their sector. On this basis, companies would then have to draft a report on the situation within the company. If the results of the company and the sector differ inexplicably, the companies will have to provide a remediation plan.
Ongoing monitoring of skills shortage on the labour market
Every two years, the social partners will be invited to issue a report on skills shortage, analysing the causes of the shortages and proposing remedial measures. As mentioned above and in our recent Briefing, the skills shortage is a recurring theme, that also resonates in the recently proposed EU Chips Act.