The federal parliament this week approved a bill intended to ensure the continuity of employment in Belgium in the event of a hard Brexit.
The new law contains a series of measures designed to prepare the country for the eventuality that the United Kingdom will definitively leave the European Union at the end of the transition period in December without having reached an agreement with the EU.
The threat of a so-called hard Brexit was much discussed during the run-up to Britain leaving the EU, but has been quietly pushed to the background now that negotiations are under way. A Brexit with no deal is a potential reality, and in fact certain factions in the UK would like nothing more.
For Belgium, the prospect means up to 42,000 jobs could be in jeopardy, and the bill takes its inspiration from measures introduced in 2009 following the financial crisis. They include giving companies the chance to maintain employment while ushering the business through the shocks that a hard Brexit would bring.
That includes temporary unemployment, where workers are laid off for a period while their jobs remain open; time-credits and the collective reduction of working time.
The measures are intended for temporary application only, to give businesses time and breathing space to absorb the first and likely the most severe shocks. To qualify, a business simply has to show a minimum 5% drop in orders or sales directly attributable to the Brexit.
The measure was approved by government parties MR, CD&V and Open VLD, as well as cdH. Abstentions were recorded from PS and sp.a, N-VA, Vlaams Belang and PTB.
Speaking for the PS, Marc Goblet said, “With this text we create discrimination between different types of economic unemployment. Also, the cost of these measures will be borne by the taxpayer. It’s the workers who will pay for measures that mainly profit businesses.”