Belgium Approves Four-day Week, Gives Workers The Power To Ignore Work Calls During Off-work Days

Belgium’s prime minister Alexander de Croo

Belgium’s multi-coalition government has agreed to a reform package that’ll see workers be able to work a four-day week. Workers, thanks to the reform, will have the prerogative to turn off work devices and overlook work-related messages after work hours without fear of suffering consequences. The reform package comes as part of a series of labour market reforms the country announced on Tuesday.

While announcing the reform package at a press conference, Belgium’s prime minister Alexander de Croo said that “We have experienced two difficult years. With this agreement, we set a beacon for an economy that is more innovative, sustainable and digital. The aim is to be able to make people and businesses stronger”.

The reform doesn’t stop there. While full-time workers will be able to work flexible schedules on demand, those in the gig economy will receive increased legal protection under the new rules.

While the reform may take weeks and even months to come into law as the draft legislation will have to pass through several readings by federal lawmakers, it is a huge step towards creating an equilibrium between the work and personal life of workers.

The new reform is not exclusive to workers in the public sector, even workers in private sectors get to work for only four days a week. However, “this has to be done at the request of the employee, with the employer giving solid reasons for any refusal”, Pierre-Yves Dermagne, the country’s labour minister explained at the press conference.

Per Euronews, a government spokesperson said that employees would be able to ask for the four-day work option for a period of six months. After this period, workers can either continue with the arrangement or go back to a five-day week arrangement with zero consequences at all. “The period of six months was chosen so that an employee would not be stuck for too long in case of a wrong choice”, the spokesperson said.

The four-day week arrangement “would benefit those who wish to spend more time with their children”, Pierre-Yves Dermagne said in a statement. The labour minister also mentioned that the reform would benefit divorced or separated parents who share custody of their children the most.

Apart from allowing people more time to be with their children, the reform will give people more time for themselves. Workers will no longer be entitled to take work calls or leave work devices on after work hours or during off days. While this right was given to civil servants working for the country’s federal government in January, all workers across private and public sectors can now enjoy this prerogative.

“The boundary between work and private life is becoming increasingly porous. These incessant demands can harm the physical and mental health of the worker”, the labour minister said.

The law, however, applies to only employers with more than 20 staff, and employers will be expected to negotiate terms with trade unions.

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