Belgian workers can ask for four-day week in first for Europe

Employers have the right to refuse, but only with a ‘solid reason’

Workers in Belgium are allowed to ask their employers for a four-day working week under new labour laws. Photo: Getty Images
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Belgian workers have become the first in Europe to be given the right to request a four-day week from employers.

Sweeping changes have been ushered in under the government’s “Labour Deal” package of reforms as the economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The overhaul means people will be able to contract their five-day working week into four days unless their employer gives a good reason why they cannot.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said the changes would boost the economy.

“We have experienced two difficult years. With this agreement, we set a beacon for an economy that is more innovative, sustainable and digital,” he said.

“The aim is to be able to make people and businesses stronger.”

While employers have free rein to turn down requests for a shorter working week, Pierre-Yves Dermagne, Belgium’s Minister of Economy and Labour, said they must give “solid reasons for any refusal”.

The UAE in January introduced a 4.5 day working week in a bid to attract more tourists and businesses. Photo: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg

Mr Dermagne said the package of measures represented “concrete progress for all workers”, and would help improve their work-life balance.

The “Vivaldi Agreement”, named after the coalition government, is part of Belgium’s plans to raise the employment rate to 80 per cent by 2030.

Deputy Prime Minister Georges Gilkinet said “increasing the rate and quality of employment is an essential element” of the deal.

“A right to training for all, more flexibility for family life, better professional mobility,... this is the Employment Deal that we have just concluded!” he tweeted.

Other European countries have also shown signs of moving towards a shorter working week.

In January, a group of British firms signed up for a four-day week trial as part of a pilot programme to determine whether staff could remain as productive as they would over five days.

The trial is being carried out by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with leading think tank Autonomy and the 4 Day Week UK Campaign. It is based on the 100:80:100 model, under which employees maintain their full wages in exchange for 80 per cent of their time and a commitment to give at least 100 per cent productivity.

If successful, the trial could pave the way for a shorter working week for millions of people across the UK.

The UAE federal government recently swapped its Sunday to Thursday working week for a four-and-a-half day schedule operating from Monday to Friday that allows people to leave early for Friday prayers. The emirate of Sharjah introduced a four-day working week for government employees soon after.

Updated: February 16, 2022, 12:08 PM