Belgium: Latest working life developments – Q1 2018

Delays to tax cuts in the sharing and platform economy, changes to employee notice periods, paid holiday reforms, and tax incentives for hiring young people are the main topics of this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Belgium in the first quarter of 2018.

Delay to tax changes in sharing and platform economy 

In January, the French Community Commission blocked the implementation of income tax changes in the sharing and platform economy by flagging a possible conflict of interest. The proposed new system plans to cut income tax from 33% to 10% for certain peer-to-peer and digital platform service jobs. It will also extend a tax exemption to cover additional incomes of up to €6,000 (from €5,100, at present).  The Belgian Federal Government had hoped to implement the changes on 20 February 2018; however, the launch will now be postponed for at least 60 days.

Social partners broadly welcomed the delay, with prominent employers’ associations (NSZ and UNIZO) citing risks of unfair competition under the new system. They will now call for amendments, including reductions in the list of tasks eligible for tax reductions and measures to prohibit workers from taking up out-of-hours assignments with their employers’ competitors.

The Quarter 4 2017 update contains background information on the planned changes to fiscal and social benefits in the sharing and platform economy.

New measures to combat stress at work

Belgium’s Federal Minister of Employment Kris Peeters has announced measures to prevent employee burn-out and stress at work, following an 80% increase in long-term sick leave cases (2005–2015). Social partners are now required to set aside resources to combat the problem and in order to share knowledge and good practice to help prevent burn-out in the workplace. Sectors or companies can also submit project proposals on this issue to the National Labour Council.

Minister Peeters will also be asking employees and employers to formulate proper arrangements regarding digital connectivity and reachability.

Action to boost youth employment

The Belgian Federal Government introduced tax incentives for companies to hire young people. The measures are designed to boost employment for 18–21 year-olds, without affecting pay levels.

Young people have also been target beneficiaries of changes to notice periods, which are designed to create better career flexibility. The measures have halved to two weeks, the notice period employees must fulfil if they decide to leave a job within less than three months. On the other hand, the Government increased notice periods in the sixth month of employment, from four weeks to five weeks.

Paid holiday reforms introduced

Belgium passed new legislation covering paid holiday in the workplace on 1 February 2018. The new Workable Work Law (also known as ‘Peeters law’) will reform annual leave rules, for example by allowing employees to ‘save up’ unused leave for future use. The measures will not apply to companies automatically and must be agreed at sectoral level through a collective labour agreement.

Before entering into law, the Bill had faced delays since August 2017 following social partners’ objections. In particular, employers wanted more freedom for firms to customise paid holiday policies. Trade unions feared the law could give firms the power to pressure employees into delaying holiday plans during busy periods. However, social partners could not agree on alternative proposals in time, missing the 25 January deadline to file amendments.

In order to implement the measures, a collective agreement must be signed by August 2018. If the sectors fail to agree, negotiations will be transferred to the company level. Ultimately, any changes to paid holiday arrangements cannot be made on an individual basis.

Commentary

It remains unclear when the new system of untaxed additional income will be finalised. The 60-day delay is only a minimum. The Senate now has 30 days to formulate its advice and deliver it to the Parliamentary Consultation Committee. In turn, the Committee will have 30 days to find a solution. If there is still no agreement, the voting procedure starts in the Chamber of Representatives. Despite the uncertainty, sources on the French-speaking side of the debate suggest there is an appetite to reach an agreement.

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