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Working time reforms

The Belgian government is currently refining a draft reform of statutory working time that will favour an increase in flexible working. The government believes that this reform will respond to the wishes of many workers by allowing for a better balance between family and working life. Trade unions, however, fear that this flexibility will only work one way, serving the needs and interests of business.

On 8 April the Belgian press revealed the key points of a new reform programme for statutory working time. Proposed by the Belgian labour minister Kris Peeters, the reform aims to replace the weekly calculation of working hours with an annual basis. The minister’s idea is to increase the legal maximum working week from 38 to 45 hours, but only on the condition that when calculated on an annual basis the average week remains at 38 hours. So in practice, an employee could, for example, work a 45 hour week with 9 hour working days, and compensate with shorter days during the year.

The government believes that this system will allow employers to manage the rhythm of their company’s production more efficiently, while also ensuring for employees a better equilibrium between working and private life. However, the three Belgian union confederations fear that increased flexibility only benefits the employers. It gives them the opportunity to require employees to work more during the peak production periods, while on the other hand employers can more easily reduce working hours when the demand is weaker. Trade unions also object to the fact that this reform programme has been developed by the government outside of the traditional mechanisms of social dialogue.

April 2016