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Parliament closes loophole in temporary unemployment rules

Meryame Kitir (sp.a) in parliament. © Belga

The social affairs committee of the federal parliament has taken steps to close what was described as a loophole in the rules on temporary unemployment caused by the coronavirus.

The measure was amended on a proposal by Meryame Kitir (sp.a), after it was alleged companies were using the loophole to save money when terminating staff.

In normal circumstances, temporary unemployment can be used in cases of force majeure, where a company has to close due to circumstances beyond its control, such as a major fire.

In those cases, staff who are forced to stop working are paid an allowance by the state. And while they are on temporary unemployment, the legal period of required for termination is suspended. In effect, the worker must return to work before being given notice of termination, at which point the notice period starts.

In the special circumstances of the Covid-19 epidemic, however, temporary unemployment was extended to all businesses that were forced to close, like restaurants and shops, as well as those who could not continue to operate because health measures like social distancing could not be implemented and teleworking was impossible – as in a factory, for example.

However the special rules for the lockdown did not suspend the notice period during temporary unemployment in these circumstances, which effectively allowed an employer to give notice of termination while a worker was being paid by the state, so that the employer did not have to pay the worker during the notice period.

The amendment passed by the social affairs committee now closes that loophole, so that the conditions applying to normal temporary unemployment now apply in coronavirus cases as well.

The system of temporary unemployment should ensure that people can keep their jobs, not get fired faster,” said Kitir. “But if employees are fired anyway, they should be able to count on correct treatment. They are entitled to a period of notice which only starts at the end of temporary unemployment and during which their full wages are paid.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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