Home / News / World /  4-day work week: European country offers full-time employees in new deal

4-day work week: European country offers full-time employees in new deal

Employers will still have the right to turn down employees’ requests for a condensed work week, on condition they explain their refusal in writing.Premium
Employers will still have the right to turn down employees’ requests for a condensed work week, on condition they explain their refusal in writing.

  • Belgian employees won the right to perform a full work week in four days instead of the usual five without loss of salary, part of an agreement that aims to make Belgium’s notoriously rigid labor market more flexible

The dream of spending less time at work without a pay cut is about to become a reality for more employees.

Belgian employees won the right to perform a full work week in four days instead of the usual five without loss of salary, part of an agreement that aims to make Belgium’s notoriously rigid labor market more flexible.

Employers will still have the right to turn down employees’ requests for a condensed work week, on condition they explain their refusal in writing, Deputy Prime Minister and Labor Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne said Tuesday in Brussels. 

For companies, it will become easier to introduce evening and night work without prior agreement from all labor unions.

“The goal is to give people and companies more freedom to arrange their work time," Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Tuesday in Brussels. “If you compare our country with others, you’ll often see we’re far less dynamic."

Only about 71 out of 100 Belgians in the age group from 20 to 64 years have a job, fewer than the euro-area average of about 73 and a full 10 percentage points less than in neighboring countries such as the Netherlands and Germany, according to Eurostat data for the third quarter of 2021. 

Belgium’s seven-party federal coalition agreement set a goal for an employment rate of 80% by 2030, a panacea that would serve to keep its legal pensions affordable or finance future tax cuts.

The Belgian government also introduced new rules for platform workers, setting out criteria for designating them as employees regardless of what they are called in their contract. According to Minister of Social Affairs Frank Vandenbroucke, the Belgian legislation will be modeled on the European Commission’s proposal from December for gig workers.

UK firms to start 4-day week without pay cuts

The UK pilot of a four-day work week will begin in June with about 30 companies that have so far signed up for the trial. The six-month long program will see firms allowing staff to work 32 hours per week while leaving their compensation and benefits unchanged.

Companies may ask staff to spread the 32 hours over five days.

"Moving to a four-day week would be a win-win for companies," Joe Ryle, director of the Four Day Week Campaign in the UK, said in a phone interview. "Studies have shown that productivity improves along with corresponding gains in workers' well-being."

The pilot in the UK is one of several worldwide being run by 4 Day Week Global, which advocates for the shorter week. Similar programs are set to start in the US and Ireland, with more planned for Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Ryle said.

 

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