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Working Conditions in Belgium

1. Minimum Working Conditions

In Belgium, the terms and conditions of employment are not only embedded in laws, but also in collective bargaining agreements (CBA’s). CBA’s are entered into either on an industry level between the unions and employer organizations or on a company level between the unions and an individual employer.

2. Salary

In principle, minimum wages are fixed per sector of industry in collective bargaining agreements. Yet, these minimum wages may not be lower than the guaranteed average minimum monthly pay, fixed by national CBA, which amounts to 1.559,38€ (as of the age of 20; figure in 2016).

In addition to their monthly gross salary, employees are entitled to double holiday pay. Moreover, in most sectors of industry, the payment of an end-of-year premium is mandatory.

3. Maximum Working Time

The maximum average working time is 38 hours per week and 8 hours per day. Yet, the maximum working time per week may be lower in some sectors of industry on the basis of a collective bargaining agreement.

There are several statutory exceptions to this rule. In case of shift work, it is for instance possible to work up to 11 hours per day and in case of continuous work even up to 12 hours.

Under certain conditions, flexible working time schedules with a weekly working time exceeding 38 hours may be introduced, provided that the quarterly or yearly average remains at 38 hours per week.
Daily minimum working time is three hours, but statutory exceptions exist.

Working at night, on Sundays and during public holidays is only allowed under strict legal conditions.

4. Overtime

Overtime work is normally prohibited, although there are several exceptions to this rule. Where overtime is authorized, overtime pay is at least 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate of pay, and twice his/her regular rate if the overtime is performed on a Sunday or a public holiday. Employees also benefit from paid rest periods in case of overtime.

Rules relating to working hours and overtime pay do not apply to, amongst others, sales representatives, homeworkers and employees in a managerial role or a position of trust within the company.

5. Holidays and Annual Vacation

Employees are entitled to remuneration for 10 official public holidays. If a public holiday falls on a Sunday or on a day on which the employee does not usually work, the employer must grant a replacement day.

Generally, for a full holiday reference year, employees have the right to between 20 and 24 days of annual leave, depending on whether their working regime includes five or six working days per week.

6. Employer’s Obligation to Provide a Healthy and Safe Workplace

The basic regulation on health and safety in Belgium is the Act of 4 August 1996 on the well-being of employees during the performance of their work (‘Well-being Act’).

Every employer is obliged to establish an “Internal Service for Prevention and Protection at Work” (the ‘Internal Service’). This body assists the employer, the members of the hierarchical line and the employees with implementing the legal and regulatory provisions regarding the well-being of the employees and all prevention measures and activities.

The higher the risk of the company (based on the number of employees and the nature of the activities), the more tasks will be executed by the Internal Service; the lower the risk of the company, the less tasks will weigh upon the Internal Service and the more responsibilities can be outsourced to a so-called External Service for Prevention and Protection at Work (the ‘External Service’), with whom the employer collaborates. External Services must be duly authorised by the authorities.

Other specialised prevention advisors intervene in matters related to psychosocial risks at work (the ’Prevention Advisor-Psychosocial Risks’) or occupational medicine (the ‘Prevention Advisor-Occupational Physician’). These Prevention Advisors can be internal or external depending on the size of the company. An external Prevention Advisor is an employee of an External Service.

Under Belgian law, workplace violence is a part of the broader concept of ‘psychosocial risk’, which covers any potential psychological damage, potentially accompanied by physical damage, linked to work in its widest sense (for example, organisation of work, working conditions, interpersonal relationships), on which the employer has an influence and which objectively involves a danger. Violence, moral or sexual harassment, stress and an excessive workload are types of psychosocial risks.

Management of psychosocial risks revolves around 3 key phases: prevention, internal procedure and external remedies.

For more information on these articles or any other issues involving labour and employment matters in Belgium, please contact Chris Van Olmen, Partner at Van Olmen & Wynant (www.vow.be) at chris.van.olmen@vow.be
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