As part of the preparation of the Belgian Federal Budget for 2022, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced that the government is currently looking at the implementation of a four-day working week.
The so-called ‘Vivaldi’ coalition comprised of liberals, socialists, greens and Christian democrats validated the possibility to spread working hours over four days instead of five. Until now, the maximum working time was set at 8 hours a day and 38 hours a week. This agreement, therefore, translates into longer working days of 9.5 hours in exchange for an extra day off. The case is now referred to social partners.
The General Labour Federation of Belgium (FGTB) already spoke out against the idea, stressing that the focus should rather be on reducing the weekly working time of full-time employees. A view actually shared by some of the federal members, such as socialist Christophe Lacroix. ‘We are facing mass unemployment and we are telling workers that are already under pressure to work more?’. Lacroix underlines that the agreement goes against Belgium’s long history of incremental reduction in working time since 1921.
Belgium is not the first country in Europe considering the implementation of a four-day week. In Iceland, a scheme involving a four-day week with a reduction from 40 to 35 weekly hours was tested between 2014 and 2021 on a global sample of 2500 employees in 100 different work sectors. In a report published last June, the researchers conclude that ‘the well-being of workers increases significantly, as does the work-family balance, without impact on productivity, which has been maintained and even improved in some cases’. In Canada, the Youth Commission of the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ) had also proposed to reduce the number of hours to be worked per week from 40 to 32 for Quebecers without reducing their wages. The employer would have to pay 4 of the missing 8 hours and the government would pay the rest.
In a report published in 2017, the ETUI carried out a mapping exercise on working time reduction and concluded that ‘there is a great need for large-scale experimentation with organised working time reduction, as the current reduction through the proliferation of part-time work does not guarantee an equal redistribution of work nor does it promote gender equality.’
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