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Belgians saw 40% more work absences due to coronavirus

The average Belgian worker in the private sector was absent from work 40% more hours in 2020 compared to 2019, with absence rates peaking in the first and second lockdowns.

The absences amount to 11 extra days, or about one day per month, says Dirk Vanderhoydonck of Acerta, a Belgian human resources organisation who researched the matter.

“During the first peak in April 2020, 1.2 million Belgians were put on temporary unemployment for at least one day,” Vanderhoydonck found. “Less work was done in Brussels in particular – on average 21 days less than during a non-corona year.”


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He says the explanation can be found in the abundance of food, tourism, and entertainment industries in the capital. These sectors have been hit more severely by the coronavirus measures.

The absences weren’t equal across sectors.

White collar workers were generally able to telework when the coronavirus hit, while many essential employees had to continue to work outside their home as normal. Absences were therefore generally lower among those white collar workers, who could work from home when they otherwise might have taken an absence.

Hourly-wage workers were absent about 12.5 more days in 2020 compared to the year prior, while for salaried workers that number was 10.

Many of those nonessential workers who could not telecommute from home suffered temporary unemployment, Vanderhoydonck said.

“The working Belgian has not been ill more than in other years, has not taken more holidays than usual,” says Vanderhoydonck, citing a similar lack of change in other types of absences, like parental leave and sabbatical. “It is temporary unemployment that increases absence.”

The data collected was based on actual data from a representative sample of 260,000 employees employed by more than 30,000 private sector employers, including both SMEs and large companies.

Helen Lyons
The Brussels Times