Belgium could soon shift to a four-day working week, with a possible announcement as soon as this weekend, a government spokesperson has confirmed to Euronews Next.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for Belgian economy and labour minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne told Euronews Next that the proposals were “currently being discussed within the Belgian federal government” as part of a broader programme of labour market reforms.
“More clarity should be provided on Sunday or Monday regarding the proposal,” they said.
Dermagne considers the four-day working week a “fundamental matter” after the COVID-19 pandemic sparked major shifts in many people’s working situations, the spokesperson said.
People would still work the same number of hours per week under the proposals being discussed, they said.
In Dermagne’s view, new legislation governing a four-day week must also contain provisions for a “right to disconnect” law, as well as rules on registering working time, the spokesperson said.
Four-day week in 2022?
Once committed to the proposal, Belgium’s federal government will work out the details of moving to a four-day week in collaboration with representatives of industry and trade unions.
That process could take at least six months, the spokesperson estimated, before the political process of passing the proposal into law can begin.
The government has “no intention” of making a four-day week mandatory, they said.
On Wednesday, Flemish-language outlet VTM Nieuws reported that Belgium’s seven-party coalition government was considering a proposal that would see the current 38-40-hour work week condensed into four longer working days.
All governing parties support the proposal, VTM reported.
“In principle we think it would be good for the employee’s freedom, but of course it must be their choice,” Meyrem Almaci, chair of the governing coalition’s Flemish Green party, told VTM.
“It’s about how he or she organises his or her life. It has to fit into people’s lives,” she said.
Iceland trial an ‘overwhelming success’
If passed into law, Belgium’s proposals would leapfrog previous European trials of four-day working weeks in Spain and Iceland.
Trials of the shorter work week in Iceland in 2017 and 2015 left workers less stressed and reduced the risk of burnout, with no negative effect on productivity or service provision, researchers found.
A 2021 study of the trials by Iceland’s Association for Sustainable Democracy (Alda) and UK think tank Autonomy found that workers taking part reported a “powerful positive effect on work-life balance”.
“This study shows that the world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success,” said Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy.
“It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks – and lessons can be learned for other governments”.