300,000 workers in Belgium risk losing days off and holiday pay

300,000 workers in Belgium risk losing days off and holiday pay
Credit: Belga / Bruno Fahy

As many as 300,000 workers in Belgium may have fewer days off and receive less holiday pay as a consequence of being put on the Covid-19 temporary unemployment system.

In the first half of last year, hundreds of thousands of people were placed on the temporary unemployment scheme, drawn up for the health crisis, to ensure their companies didn't become insolvent under the burden of staff salaries. Those placed on the scheme received just 30% of their normal wages and the Christian trade union ACV warned on Wednesday that it is now workers who are bearing the brunt of this measure.

"They remained available and loyal to their employer despite the loss of wages. Today, some 300,000 people risk getting fewer holidays and less holiday pay at a time when many workers can no longer pay their bills," the union wrote on Twitter.

The most affected people work in construction, hospitality, healthcare, transport and storage, trade and garages and administrative support services.

Days 'equalised'

In Belgium, the number of statutory holidays a worker is entitled to is determined by the number of working days carried out and the equivalent inactivity days (such as sick days). Yet the calculation fails to account for days under temporary unemployment, meaning that people who were put on this scheme last year will receive fewer days off in 2023.

This was also the case in 2020 and 2021, but in those years the days were "equalised," meaning these days were considered the same as actual days worked when holiday entitlement was calculated. This particular aspect of the scheme was dropped in 2022.

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The Christian union calculates that the total number of such days on the temporary unemployment scheme amounts to more than 6.8 million. The union has called on the government to settle the issue as quickly as possible.

In response, Labour Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne has referred to the financial shortages at the National Annual Holiday Office (RJV). He told De Standaard that a working group will be established to resolve the RJV's financial problems. In the meantime, Dermagne will submit a proposal to temporarily increase the employer contribution for holiday pay.

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