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Article | Global News Briefs

Belgium: Proposals would introduce option of a four-day workweek

By Antoine Michel | March 08, 2022

Belgium proposes a four-day workweek and the right to disconnect to support a better work/life balance.
Health and Benefits|Work Transformation|Benessere integrato

Employer Action Code: Monitor

The coalition government has announced a new “labor market deal” to increase flexibility of employment for workers and improve work/life balance, with the aim of increasing the employment rate for people age 20 to 64 to 80% by 2030 (the rate was 71% in the third quarter of 2021). Reaction to the proposals from business and labor leaders has been mixed, and the deal still requires enactment by parliament before becoming law.

Key details

  • Companies that choose to adopt the possibility of a four-day workweek would have to amend their work rules to recognize the possibility of an alternative “normal” workday (as defined by the work rules) of 9.5 hours along with the normal workday of 7.5 hours. Full-time employees would then be entitled to request, in writing, their employer’s approval to work their full weekly working hours over four days instead of the standard five or, alternatively, to request biweekly work schedules where weekly working hours would be shorter one week and longer the next. Employers could reject requests, with written justification. Approved arrangements would be valid for six months, renewable indefinitely.
  • All employees would have the right to annual paid leave for training and development: three days in 2022, four in 2023 and five from 2024. In addition, companies with 20 or more workers would be required to draw up annual training plans for all employees.
  • At the end of employment, terminating employees would be allowed to begin work for a new employer during the notice period, subject to a transition agreement between the old and new employers regarding compensation. New employment would have to be on an indefinite basis. Older employees with notice periods of 30 weeks or longer would be able to exchange one-third of their notice period (i.e., pay in lieu) to cover the cost of retraining or outplacement services.
  • In companies with 20 or more workers, employees would have the right to disconnect (i.e., not to engage in electronic communications outside of normal working hours).
  • A newly established unit within the Federal Public Service Employment would provide joint committees (bipartite labor forums) and sub-committees with data on workforce diversity at the sectoral level. Companies found to have significant and unexplainable differences from sectoral averages would be obliged to draft a plan to eliminate such differences.
  • Standard criteria to determine the status of platform/gig workers as employees or self-employed would be developed under the Labor Relations Law. In addition, the workers would have to be covered by workers compensation insurance.

Employer implications

The extent to which the deal, if enacted, would draw more workers into the workforce is difficult to assess.

Belgium’s employment rate for workers age 20 to 64 at 71% as of 2021 is well below neighboring Germany (81%) and the Netherlands (83%), but its employment rate for prime working age (age 25 to 54) at 81% is more competitive, only around 5% lower than the rates of its immediate neighbors (Eurostat data); however, the employment rate for workers age 55 to 64 is much lower (55%), compared with 73% in both the Netherlands and Germany. It’s not evident that the proposed measures would be sufficient to close this large gap.


Antoine Michel
HR Survey Analyst
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