Government coalition party Ecolo – French-speaking greens – has said it will not support a proposal from Open VLD to move to a four-day working week.
But the proposal does not mean a loss of working hours. Rather it would concentrate a 38-hour week in four days – at 9.5h a day – rather than five days of 7.6h.
Ecolo is the sole coalition party to object. The socialist PS has expressed a qualified support, under certain conditions, while the Flemish Groen party, the counterpart of Ecolo, has done the same.
“If it is voluntary and it allows employees to choose their working hours flexibly, we are in favour,” said Groen president Meyrem Almaci earlier this week. “For some, this could help improve the reconciliation of work and private life.”
But Ecolo is holding out.
“I have always defended the reduction of working time,” said Zakia Khattabi, federal minister of Climate and Environment on Friday morning on Bel-RTL.
“This concerns a regulation of working time The rest day proposed in this formula will, in my opinion, be necessary to recover from the hours worked on the previous days. So no, my party will not support this proposal.”
Ecolo’s veto comes as the De Croo government prepares for a weekend marathon of negotiations on the budget, with a view to having an agreement by Monday on energy prices, investment and labour market adjustments.
Among the latter measures is a proposal from the Flemish government to make it easier to bring the long-term ill back into work.
The Flemish proposal was launched back in July, calling for a more tailor-made approach to labour for the different regions, as each was facing different issues.
A new set of state reforms is due in 2024, when more responsibilities will pass to the regions, but Flanders’ majority parties are now asking the federal government to allow them to make their own policies on labour issues, with the goal of raising the employment level to 80% of adults, which would mean creating jobs for 120,000 people currently unemployed.
Among them, people who have been sick or disabled for a long time, but could still take part in some kind of gainful employment.
Flanders has consistently higher levels of the population in employment in jobs. In 2020 the figure stands at 74.73%, compared with Wallonia on 64.6% and Brussels on 61.3%. The figure for Belgium as a whole is in second place on 70.03%. Those gaps have remained more or less constant for the last 15 years.