Behind the Headlines on Belgium’s Four-Day Week

The conversation on loosening ties with the standard 9-to-5 office routine is trending again, as Belgium now offers workers the right to a four-day working week, without a loss of salary.

Simple as it sounds? There’s a catch: employers must agree.

New measures under a labour-law reform agreement proposed by Belgium’s federal government will give employees the ability to compress their workload into four ten-hour days. The option of working additional hours one week and less the next is also to be offered in the context of parenting.

Any demand for modification to a condensed work regime requires approval from the boss. The reality is management can turn down this request, on condition they justify reasoning for refusal in writing, as Deputy Prime Minister and Labor Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne said Tuesday.

Image courtesy of @austindistel via Unsplash.

Evening work, defined as between 8pm–6am, is also expected to become more flexible. Previously, negotiation of permission with all unions represented in the workplace was mandatory for evening work to be carried out. Now, only one union needs to be consulted, with its permission not absolutely necessary.

Arguably the most attractive addition in the reform package, Belgium’s workers will be granted the right to disconnect and ignore work-related messages after operating hours without retribution. In consultation with their trade unions, companies with minimum 20 employees will be obliged to respect this regulation. This initiative has already been implemented in Portugal, although it is only applicable to companies with minimum 10 employees.

The re-worked working week can take place in various ways: taking Fridays off with the appeal of a three-day weekend, half-days, or alternating different days between colleagues where duties can be more easily distributed.

Reduced workweek trials ran in Iceland from 2015 to 2019, and were deemed an “overwhelming success”. Since then, 86% of the Icelandic workforce now conformed to a shorter working week, with researchers noting no loss in productivity and improved staff wellbeing.

Follow Christian on Twitter for more news updates.

Feature image courtesy of @perventuator via Unsplash.

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