Belgium will give workers the right to a four day week under new reforms

17 February 2022, 14:09

Workers in Belgium are being given the right to request a four-day week
Workers in Belgium are being given the right to request a four-day week. Picture: Picture: Alamy

By Liam Gould

People in Belgium will have the option to ask for a four day working week under major reforms to the country's labour market.

Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander de Croo announced the new reforms in a press conference on Tuesday.

"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”, Mr de Croo said in a press conference.

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

Read More: Four-day work week trial in Iceland hailed an 'overwhelming success'

The proposed programme would condense the current 38-hour working week from five days into four. The “day off” would be compensated with longer work hours across the other four days.

The reforms would see employees given the option of trialling the new four-day system for six months.

"This has to be done at the request of the employee, with the employer giving solid reasons for any refusal," Belgian labour minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne told the press conference.

After that trial period, an employee can continue with the four day working week, or return to the original model of five days with no repercussions.

The move is intended to improve employee's work-life balance across the country, and allow people to spend more time with their families.

Mr Dermagne added: "This would benefit those who wish to spend more time with their children.”

Read More: Four day working week pilot scheme launched by 30 companies

The reforms will also give workers the right to ignore work messages and to turn off work devices after they finish without fear of repercussions.

Civil servants for Belgium’s federal government were given the right to turn off work devices after hours in January - which affected around 65,000 workers.

This measure will now be extended to all workers - including those in the private sector.

Full-time employees will be able to work flexible time-schedules, and gig workers will be given more legal protection.

Social affairs minister Frank Vandenbroucke said the rules do not affect the freelance industry.

"If someone wants to work as a self-employed person, they can do so and will have more autonomy,” he said.

Belgium join other European countries in trialling the new four day working system. Scotland has previously launched a similar trial, that sees hours reduced by 20%, but makes sure workers won’t suffer any loss in compensation.

Spain launched a similar scheme with the government covering the cost of workers’ salaries, and a trial in Iceland was branded "an overwhelming success."

But, the proposals could take months to come into practise as it has to pass through multiple Belgian federal law-makers.