Belgium has joined an increasing list of nations, which is offering its workers a four-day work week. This is part of a major Covid-era shake-up of labour laws, announced by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Tuesday.
“The Covid period has forced us to work more flexibly – the labour market needs to adapt to that,” he told journalists after an overnight negotiation of the changes among ministers.
The most eye-catching change is the right to turn off work devices and ignore work-related messages after hours without fear of reprisal.
The measures are meant to enhance the quality of life of Belgians and offer them better work-life balance.
The details of the package
The new measures would allow employees to clock up 38 hours of work over four days instead of five, opening the possibility to permanent long weekends, or a day of parenting. And all this is being offered without any reduction in salary.
The flexibility principle it carries would also allow an employee to work a higher number of hours in one week to have a much lighter week the next.
However, any request needs to be approved by the boss – meaning that, in practice, such managed flexibility would only be an option for those working in big companies, where the workload can be more easily distributed.
Is it being implemented immediately?
The changes won’t be implemented immediately, according to the document released by the federal government. Unions will have their say on a draft bill before amendments are made, then the legislation will be scrutinised by the Council of State advising the government, before the parliament votes.
Observers expected it to come into effect around the middle of this year.
Other reforms approved by the multi-party Belgian government include individual employee access to training, and a test programme allowing night-work for employees in the e-commerce sector.
Countries which have implemented four-day work week
In September 2021, Scotland launched a trial four-day work week, a campaign promise made by the ruling Scottish National Party. Iceland, Spain and Japan also tested four-day working weeks last year.
The UAE became the first country to transition to four-day work week officially in December last year.