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Four-day work week in Belgium not allowed for everyone

Four day working week?
18:10 16/02/2022

Although a four-day work week was part of Belgium’s new labour package, not everyone will be able to take advantage of the flexibility that comes with an extra day off. 

Civil servants, for one, won’t be allowed to squeeze their normal working hours into four longer work days instead of five traditional ones, De Morgen reports. 

“The whole labour deal is about the statutes and working conditions in the private sector, and so it does not apply to them,” said civil service minister Petra De Sutter.

“But if there is also a demand among civil servants for such a four-day regime, in order to better balance work and private life, I would certainly like to explore what is possible. That will be done in consultation with the chairmen of the public services and the trade unions.”

De Sutter didn’t want to make any promises, but pointed out that the government did include a clear commitment to bring the three statuses - employees, civil servants and the self-employed - closer together as much as possible. 

“We first introduced the right to disconnect after working hours for civil servants and are now extending it to employees. So if civil servants also benefit from more flexibility, we can certainly look at that.”

When it comes to employees in the private sector, some details still need to be worked out but the key provisions are already known. 

Longer days, shorter work week

In principle, employees can either stick to the traditional five-day work week or work the same number of hours in five days in just four. This would mean a person who works 38 hours a week can do four days of nine and a half hours each, instead of five days of seven hours and 36 minutes.

Similarly, a person who wants to alternate busy and light weeks can work up to 45 hours a week for the first five days and then 31 hours for the next five days, a formula that can be applied in blocks of two weeks during the summer holidays, according to Le Soir’s analysis.

The idea is to give workers greater flexibility and work-life balance, and the right to work a four-day week is open to all employees, without having to prove a need related to childcare. But a four-day work week will be difficult to implement in very small enterprises (VSEs), where there are fewer people among whom the work can be divided. 

Any change in working hours will still be subject to an employer's agreement, but the employer will have to provide a reason for any refusal. Overtime is not affected by the new legislation, and remains subject to the existing laws.

The measure is not yet in effect: once the agreement’s text has been finalised, it will be submitted to the social partners within the National Labour Council for their opinion, then go back to the government for a second reading before being sent to the Council of State for analysis and finally being voted on in Parliament, most likely before the summer. It would then enter into force after formal publication.

Written by Helen Lyons