What would you say to working four days a week instead of five, without seeing your income decrease? This is the choice that Belgian workers will be able to make from this Monday, November 21, the day of the entry into force of a labor market reform adopted at the end of September by Parliament.
Contrary to what one might think, this is not a measure to reduce working time… but an intensification: employees will work full time (38 or 40 hours per week, depending on collective agreements ) over four days. They will be able to request it from their employer, for a renewable six-month test period.
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“Work is no longer just ‘working hours'”: they have moved to the four-day week
This reform also provides that working time will be calculated over two weeks for separated parents who have their children in joint custody. They will be able to reduce their working time one week and compensate the next. And for employees past four days, overtime will be prohibited on the fifth day.
When presenting the reform at the start of 2022, the Prime Minister, the Flemish liberal Alexander De Croo, said he wanted to offer employees “more freedom and flexibility to better reconcile private and professional life”. The unions hope that this reform will be a step towards a move to a 36-hour week.
According to the General Federation of Belgian Workers (FGTB), the second largest trade union in Belgium, the system poses several problems. First of all, the employer always has the possibility of refusing the four-day week to his employee. ” He must justify his decision but the criteria taken into account are not clear., says Estelle Ceulemans, secretary general at the FGTB Brussels, interviewed by RTBF. She continues:
“Full-time workers will have to work 9:30 a.m. a day. The work-life balance is therefore not likely to improve for women, especially for those living in a single-parent family. »“Bosses, try the 4-day week, it works”
She even fears that the lowest paid employees will be tempted to embark on a complementary activity on the fifth day.
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Experiments in Europe
The defenders of the reduction of working time (and not of the “compressed” four-day week) see several benefits, for workers as for society. Working less already means polluting less, as several studies have shown. Moreover, the companies that have started saying it: employees who work four days are happier, less stressed, and produce just as much – if that is still the objective. Finally, it is a means of sharing work during periods of unemployment.
The four-day week is gaining ground in Europe. In Spain, a 32-hour week instead of 40 hours, over four days and without loss of pay, is being tested this year in 200 small and medium-sized Spanish companies.
Pierre Larrouturou and Philippe Geluck defend the 4-day week “to avoid the crisis”
In the United Kingdom, more than 70 companies (3,000 employees in total) have also taken part since June and until the end of the year in an experiment organized by the association 4 Day Week Global. According to a survey of these companies, 86% say they are considering ” most likely ” Where “extremely likely” to keep the four-day week at the end of this trial period.