The Covid-19 pandemic made companies rethink and reinvent something that has been the norm in the workplace for years. Due to the pandemic, employees are forced to work more flexibly and the labor market needed to adapt to these transitions. Japan, Iceland, Spain, and the UAE were the first countries to make a radical reorganization of their labor laws including moving to a 4-day workweek as a way to offer workers a better work-life balance. These countries tried the new reform on a trial basis – in a radical six-month pilot. This is to see if reducing the working hours would maintain the levels of productivity required.
In December 2021, the UAE became the first country to officially implement the 4-day workweek. The success of the new workplace arrangement in the UAE induced other nations to reevaluate the traditional workplace culture and embrace the shift. In February 2022, Belgium announced its approval of the labor market reform after it was agreed upon by the country’s multi-party coalition government. But instead of reducing the number of working hours, the reform package simply compresses the traditional 38 or 40 hours of work into four days.
Belgium Approves 4-Day Workweek
Belgium’s revision of the 4-day workweek would require employees to work longer hours in each day to compensate for the additional day off. This means a worker has to work nine-and-a-half hours a day for four days to have the benefit of a long 3-day weekend every week. While the compressed full-time workload might not sound appealing to some workers, having more days off to spend with family, do leisure activities, or simply to relax, definitely outweighs the cons.
“We have experienced two difficult years,” Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander de Croo explained during a press conference announcing the reform package. “With this agreement, we set a beacon for an economy that is more innovative, sustainable and digital. The aim is to be able to make people and businesses stronger.”
In addition to the 4-day workweek, the reform package also grants employees the right to ignore work-related messages after working hours without fear of reprisal. In their days off, workers can turn off their work devices and ignore their bosses once they’re off the clock. The reform package won’t be implemented immediately as the draft bill must be approved by federal lawmakers before amendments are made. Once the bill is enacted into law, the new legislation will instantly apply to all employers with more than 20 employees.
Initial implementation would require all employees to work under the 4-day workweek arrangement for a period of six months. After that, employees can choose to adopt the new arrangement or go back to the traditional 5-day workweek without any negative repercussions. Additionally, the new labor reforms aim to regulate platform work by providing gig workers insurance against work-related injuries. It will also help those working in the gig economy like Uber and Deliveroo to define clearer rules in judging whether or not they are considered self-employed.
The law, however, doesn’t apply to freelancers. For those working as a self-employed person, the new labor reforms would give them more autonomy and stronger legal protection.