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Employment

Belgium says workers can request a four-day week – but it’s not quite what it seems

Campaigners say that compressing five days of work into four isn’t the solution to tackling burnout, stress and overwork.

Workers in Belgium will be given the right to request a four-day week without a reduction in pay. 

Under the reform, employees will be allowed to work up to 9.5 hours a day – the equivalent of 9am to 6.30pm –  meaning they will be able to squash a week of work into four longer days. This could be further extended to a 10-hour day through a workplace trade union agreement.

Bosses will be able to reject the requests, but they must give “solid grounds” for doing so.

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The Flemish prime minister Alexander De Croo said the pandemic has “forced us to work more flexibly and combine our private and working lives.” 

The goal of these new measures is “to give people and companies more freedom to arrange their work time,” he added.

It comes after the UK government announced plans to make flexible working the default in September last year.

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The plans would give workers the right to request flexibility from day one so, like in Belgium, employees could request compressed hours and work a four-day week. The proposals would also allow workers to request fewer or different hours, working from home all the time or some of the time – also called hybrid working – and job sharing.

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Like Belgium, employers would still be able to say no, within reason. 

Campaigners have highlighted that allowing compressed hours is not in line with the goals of transitioning to a four-day week

Responding to the Belgium government’s announcement, Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, welcomed more flexibility for workers to choose when they work, but stressed that “compressing a normal five day week into four-days is not the answer to tackling burnout, stress and overwork.”

“It’s essential that the move to a four-day week involves a reduction in working hours, with no loss of pay for employees,” he continued. 

A new UK trial of the four day week, launched in January 2022 and involving at least 30 employers, has sparked wider interest in the idea among businesses and workers alike. 

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