EMCC European Monitoring Centre on Change

Temporary unemployment

Phase: Management
  • Response to COVID-19
  • Income support for workers
  • Working time flexibility
Last modified: 03 August, 2021
Native name:

Chômage partiel/Tijdelijke werkloosheid

English name:

Temporary unemployment


Temporary unemployment is available in the private sector and the semi-public sector (the latter referring to public enterprises with an economic aspect, such as the rail service and the postal service). It applies to blue-collar workers, to employees during an economic downturn, and to those whose employability has been impacted by bad weather or an unforeseen event such as a technical accident. The measure must involve a group of workers, such as all those from one unit within a company or all blue-collar workers, and it also has to be temporary.

As a response to the COVID-19 crisis, between 13 March and 31 August 2020, temporary unemployment due to COVID-19 is considered as temporary unemployment due to force majeure, making the support also available to white-collar workers. It has also been extended to interim workers (among other non-standard contracts) and to employees of Belgium-based companies stranded abroad or placed in quarantine after returning from an infected region. Starting the 1 September measures will be more diverse depending on the situation within the company and/or the sector. More concretely sectors that are considered to be struck significantly by the crisis (after the 1 September as well), can still make use of the Covid-19 specific system. The list of sectors is established by the government, otherwise, the company has to prove that at least 20% of its workforce had to make use of temporary unemployment due to economic reasons in the second trimester of 2020.

Companies that do not fulfil either of these rules go back to the system as it was before the crisis, including separate regulations for white and blue-collar workers. For white-collar workers, transition measures are in place to still make use of the system until the 31 December 2020.

Main characteristics

The employer may establish a system of temporary unemployment for workers by totally suspending the execution of the employment contract or by establishing a system of short-time working. The scheme applies to a certain number of employees and only after exhausting their recuperation days.

A total (during all days of the week) suspension of employment contracts is possible for four weeks at a time. After 4 weeks it is obligatory to have at least one working week before starting a new period of suspension (either full or partial).

The partial suspension is possible as well, in the form of either a small suspension or large suspension. With a small suspension, the employee is obliged to work either at least 3 days per week or at least one week every two weeks. With the large suspension, he/she works less than 3 days a week or less than 1 week every two weeks. The maximum duration of a short suspension is 12 months (the end date has to be defined clearly), for the large suspension, it is 3 months. 

The decrease in working time must be formally established by a collective agreement at the sector or company level or in the company's internal rules, thus requiring the agreement of the trade unions.

The income is assessed based on the worker's last monthly wage and cannot exceed a maximum of €2,547,39 per month (since 2016). Since January 2016, workers receive 65% of their salary regardless of their family situation.

The law decree of 28 December 1944 also extended the measure to temporary workers and those on a fixed-term contract. In cases of reduced working time, a variety of regimes or durations are possible.

A maximum period of three months is placed on cases where the employer has reduced working time to less than three days per week or, on a fortnightly schedule, to one week off and more than two days worked the following week. By royal decree, a maximum period of four weeks is extended to cases where work has been reduced to less than two days a week without specific derogation.

These cases are generally dependent on the existence of a collective agreement. The employees remain under contract with their employer during periods of temporary unemployment, even though the operation of the contract is suspended, and they retain all rights related to the contract. An additional right is conceded to workers on temporary unemployment, who are exempt from the requirement to give the employer notice of their intention to leave to work elsewhere.

Workers and employees are not protected from dismissal during temporary unemployment, but the period of dismissal notice may only begin after the temporary unemployment period has elapsed. Workers' long-term entitlements to pension, social security or health benefits are not negatively affected in situations where they are put on temporary unemployment. Temporary unemployment days are in the same category as days taken for sick leave – although not worked, they count towards the calculation of all benefits. This is financed by the social security budget of the state. The employer must notify the local branch of the National Employment Office  (Office National de Sécurité Sociale – ONEM/Rijksdienst voor Arbeidsvoorziening – RVA), the federal agency responsible for the payment of unemployment benefits, as well as the workers affected and the workers' representatives at least one week in advance.

Adaptation in the framework of the COVID-19 crisis response

For the duration of the restrictive measures, the employer is no longer obliged to notify the local branch of the National Employment Office, and the form to apply for benefits to the designated payment institution has been simplified.

Between 1 Februrary and 31 August, employees on partial unemployment receive a benefit amounting to 70% of their average monthly salary (capped at €2,754.76). Employees who are temporarily unemployed due to force majeure to receive a supplement of €5.63 per day on top of the unemployment benefit. A withholding tax on the professional income of 26.75% is deducted from the benefit. Workers receive an advance payment of €1,450 while their dossier is being processed. As mentioned above, in certain situations and sectors the COVID-specific temporary unemployment measures may be prolonged until the 31 December 2020.


  • National funds

Involved actors

National government
Funding; legal framework.
Public employment services
The employer must notify the local branch of ONEM/RVA, the federal agency responsible for payment of unemployment benefits, workers affected and worker representatives at least a week in advance.
Employer or employee organisations
Collective agreement at sectoral or company level; the employer must notify the local branch of ONEM/RVA, the federal agency responsible for payment of unemployment benefits, workers affected and worker representatives at least a week in advance.
The employer must notify the local branch of ONEM/RVA, the federal agency responsible for payment of unemployment benefits, workers affected and worker representatives at least a week in advance.


The number of dossiers applying for a temporary employment allowance is very volatile, as it is not only depending on the economic conjuncture but also unforeseen events as technical accidents or bad weather.

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, as of late March/early April 2020, about 1.2 million employees (out of an active population of less than 4 million) used the scheme. This is currently the peak moment with regards to uptake of the measure. In July 2020 this was already significantly less with 395.784 applications.


August 2013     116,279 dossiers        September 2013        135,861 dossiers     January 2013     209,097

August 2014     130,965 dossiers        September 2014        124,200 dossiers     January 2014     150,116

August 2015     104,671 dossiers        September 2015         97,660 dossiers      January 2015     175,264

August 2016      82,453 dossiers         September 2016         86,003 dossiers      January 2016     173,834

August 2017      61,402 dossiers         September 2017         93,772 dossiers      January 2017     142,619

August 2018      TBA                             September 2018         TBA                            January 2018     136,096



This instrument is established and well-known. It has a strong level of legitimacy from the social partners and the government. It offers employers both certainty and flexibility concerning staffing levels; for example, it provides the choice of whether or not to implement full or partial temporary unemployment, or to change leave days in case of partial temporary unemployment.

The use of temporary unemployment support avoids immediate redundancies in situations where there is a temporary workforce surplus. It enables companies to retain their human capital (and to a lesser extent, provide training). Only at a later stage, when it is clear that the labour demand will not retake, they have to start dismissing (some of) their workers.

Employees' income is protected during periods of temporary unemployment and access to long-term benefits and entitlements is not negatively affected.


One weakness relates to the transfer of responsibility for the cost of flexibility from the business company to the society, with public authorities paying a part of the unemployment benefit. The system can be hijacked by the employers, often with the workers’ approval, and turned into an illicit mean of avoiding paying taxes. In such cases, workers on temporary unemployment continue to work, and are illegally paid by the company to do so. Also, the two-week waiting period for approval of temporary unemployment requests from employers poses problems in terms of planning; this leads to employers making precautionary applications for temporary unemployment.


Case New Holland A large amount of Belgian companies active in both Brussels and Flemish-Brabant applied for temporary unemployment support following the attacks on the airport of Zaventem on March 22. Many firms that rely heavily on the airport for their business applied like for example: courier services, cleaning services, catering services, taxi drivers, etc.
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