The government has changed its mind about dismantling the special system of temporary unemployment from September 1, federal labour minister Nathalie Muylle (CD&V) told parliament on Tuesday.
When the coronavirus crisis first struck in March, the government extended its established system of temporary unemployment to cover businesses hit by the lockdown and by new rules which enforced social distancing.
Businesses that were unable to operate normally were allowed to send their workers home, and they would be able to call on benefits from the government to assure them of 70% of their normal income in the meantime, capped at just over €1,900 a month before deductions.
The system already existed, but was used only in particular cases, such as when a manufacturing plant was hit by a cyber-attack which brought production to a standstill.
However the lockdown is now almost entirely behind us, and the government announced that the current system of temporary unemployment would come to an end from the beginning of September. Only the travel, events and hospitality sectors, all of whom were particularly affected by the lockdown, would be allowed to continue.
Other businesses which might still be suffering the after-effects of the crisis could still apply for the normal system of temporary unemployment, Muylle promised. But businesses were not happy with that.
The normal system involved the employer paying some of the costs, unlike the emergency regime. The company also needs to demonstrate it has lost at least 10% of its turnover. In addition, there are other conditions placed on employees, depending on whether they are considered office workers or labourers.
Businesses were worried about the costs, and that led the Group of Ten – made up of employers and unions – to call on the government for a more flexible regime, continuing the crisis system until the end of the year.
Muylle has now granted that three-month grace period, although her conditions are stricter that the Group of Ten had requested.
As well as the sectors already excepted, companies will be able to take advantage of temporary unemployment, but must show a loss of income of at least 20% in the period from April 1 to June 30.
“This is extremely important for our companies,” said Monica De Jonghe, director-general of the Federation of Belgian Enterprises (FEB). “The crisis is far from over and the fear is that a difficult autumn awaits us. So it is important that companies can fall back on a flexible scheme for temporary unemployment.”