'Worst still to come': Businesses buckling under Covid-19 strain

'Worst still to come': Businesses buckling under Covid-19 strain
Credit: Voka

As the Omicron variant continues to sweep through society, around three-quarters of businesses in Belgium are feeling the pressure of staff shortages.

A rising number of people are either off sick or in isolation, even with the relaxed quarantine rules, resulting in acute staff shortages in many businesses, a survey by the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium (FEB) published on Monday revealed.

"We clearly see increasing pressure on companies due to staff absence linked to Omicron. This is not only happening in education, but also in the private sector," Pieter Timmermans, CEO of the FEB, said.

Last week, the education sector already called for relaxed quarantine rules as schools are under mounting pressure. National railway company SNCB announced on Monday that it would once again be scrapping trains and scaling down its network capacity as a result of staff absenteeism.

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FEB's survey found that the situation is getting worse since the Christmas holidays for various sectors. 27% of companies indicated experiencing a strong or very strong impact on production or activity due to Covid-related staff shortages, up from 19% just several days ago.

Limiting impact on businesses

A recent report from the KU Leuven showed that working people have become infected with the coronavirus almost twice as often as the rest of the population in Belgium.

Last Friday, several trade unions representing Belgian employers and employees (known collectively as the Group of Ten) agreed to allow for extra flexibility in the workplace to make up for staff shortages after being put under pressure by the government.

This makes it easier to employ students, (early) retirees, asylum seekers or unemployed people until the end of February and relaxes the rules for fixed-term contracts. Timmermans stressed that the peak is not yet in sight and "everything must be done to limit the impact on Belgian businesses."

"The government must now implement these measures quickly, otherwise they will be simply too late," he said.

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