The government adopted new socio-economic measures on Saturday (11 April 2020) that aim to support the Belgian economy during the coronavirus economic downturn. The objective of most measures is to encourage individuals to continue working and to allow for more flexibility in the way that work can be carried out.
Set out below is an overview of the different measures that have been approved by the Council of Ministers. This overview has been prepared on the basis of the currently-known information. For the exact details of such measures, we must await the publication of the royal decrees in the Belgian Official Gazette.
More details on the employment-related measures
The number of voluntary overtime hours increases from 120 to 220 hours for employees working for employers in an essential sector (i.e. all undertakings and institutions listed in the Ministerial Decree of 23 March 2020 – as amended in the meantime). These additional 100 overtime hours must be performed between 1 April 2020 and 30 June 2020. Moreover, these voluntary overtime hours in the essential sectors are tax-exempted and no social security contributions are due. Employers must not pay any overtime pay or grant compensatory rest and these voluntary overtime hours are not taken into account for the calculation of the average working time or for the so-called ‘internal limit’
The Covid-19 bridging right is a replacement income that is granted under certain conditions to self-employed workers who must, completely or partially, cease their activity due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Initially, only the self-employed workers in a principal occupation as well as self-employed workers in a secondary occupation but who paid social security contributions at least equal to the minimal contribution of self-employed workers in a principal occupation could benefit from this Covid-19 bridging right (1,614.10 EUR (with family burden) or 1,291.69 EUR (without family burden) per month).
The government has now decided to also grant half of this Covid-19 bridging right to self-employed workers in a secondary occupation who do not pay social security contributions that are at least equal to the minimal contribution of self-employed workers in a principal occupation (807 EUR (with family burden) or 645 EUR (without family burden)). Please note that, in total, the sum of the half crisis bridging right and any other type of replacement income (e.g. pension allowance, temporary unemployment benefits) may not exceed 1,614.10 EUR. If this amount is exceeded, the monthly amount of the Covid-19 bridging right will be reduced.
For a full working day in these sectors, temporarily unemployed employees will receive their normal salary for the work performed and they will continue to receive 75% of the temporary unemployment allocation for such a day.
An employee who is put on temporary unemployment by an employer who does not belong to one of these three sectors still has the option to work for another employer during the period of temporary unemployment (see in this regard the increased option to work with a fixed-term employment contract). In this case, he/she will however lose his/her right to temporary unemployment benefits.
Employees who currently benefit from a time-credit scheme (full or part-time) can decide to temporarily suspend this scheme in order to work again for their own employer provided that the employer belongs to a “vital” sector (currently defined as employers who belong to the agricultural sector (joint committee 144), the horticultural sector (joint committee 145) or the forestry sector (joint committee 146) (or users of interim employees within these sectors). At the end of the temporary suspension of the time-credit scheme, the latter will simply resume under the same conditions as before and the temporary working period will not be taken into account for the (maximum) duration of the time-credit. It is thus no longer necessary during the Covid-19 crisis to first officially end the time-credit scheme and, subsequently, introduce a new application for a time-credit. The employee would in principle not receive any interruption allowance from the state during this suspension of the time-credit scheme.
If their employer does not belong to a “vital” sector, then employees who currently benefit from a time-credit scheme can decide to suspend such a scheme in order to work instead for another employer that does belong to such a vital sector. In this case, the employee would keep 75% of the interruption allowance from the state.
Under Belgian employment law, and apart from some exceptions, an employer cannot allow a third-party user to use the services of one or more of its employees in which the authority vested in the employer is (partly) exercised by the user.
The new measure would allow employers of all sectors to lend permanent employees to users in essential sectors (i.e. all undertakings and institutions listed in the Ministerial Decree of 23 March 2020 – as amended in the meantime), provided that these permanent employees were hired by their employer before 10 April 2020. The idea is that employees who were put on temporary unemployment for “corona” force majeure can be lifted out of temporary unemployment by having them work for a user in an essential sector.
A written agreement will have to be signed by the legal employer, the user and the employee before the start of the employee lending.
The salary and benefits paid by the user to the lent employee can under no circumstances be lower than those paid to the employees performing the same function with the user. During the period in which the employee is put at the user’s disposal, the user will be responsible for complying with all legislation on labour regulation and protection that apply in the work place (i.e. discrimination legislation, equal treatment of men and women, working time, public holidays, maternity protection, etc.).
This measure would apply in principle from 1 April to 30 June 2020.
The first 475 working hours performed by a student with one or more employers during one fiscal year are in principle not subject to social security contributions. Once this quota has been reached, the working hours performed by the student are subject to ordinary social security contributions.
The new measure provides that all working hours performed by students during the second quarter of 2020 will not be taken into account for calculating the quota.
Students will thus be able to strengthen the labour force in essential sectors (such as the retail or food sector) without there being a negative effect on their quota.
In Belgium, when parties have concluded several successive fixed-term employment contracts or contracts for clearly defined work without any interruption due to the employee, they are deemed to have entered into an employment contract of an indefinite duration (unless the succession of contracts is justified by the nature of the work or for legitimate reasons). One of the exceptions to this rule consists of the option for the parties to conclude a maximum of four fixed-term contracts (of at least three months) provided that the total duration of those contracts does not exceed two years.
It will now be possible, in the essential sectors only (i.e. all undertakings and institutions listed in the Ministerial Decree of 23 March 2020 – as amended in the meantime), to conclude successive fixed-term employment contracts of a minimum of 7 days during a period of three months as from the entry into force of the royal decree without this succession leading to the requalification of the contract into an employment contract of an indefinite duration.
Asylum seekers who have submitted an asylum application to the CGRS (CGRA/CGVS) will have the option to work during their asylum procedure, and during any possible appeal against the decision. The aim of this measure is to compensate for the lack of labour force, in particular regarding seasonal workers.
In principle, the National Employment Office (“RVA”/“Onem”) grants unemployment benefits for an unlimited period of time. However, the amount of these unemployment benefits diminishes over time.
The new measure ensures that such a decrease will be frozen during the Covid-19 crisis.
As mentioned, these measures have yet to be adopted by royal decrees and may therefore be subject to some changes during the adoption process. Therefore, this overview is drafted subject to the future official publications of these decrees in the Belgian Official Gazette.
The ALTIUS Employment Team is available to help you in these difficult times for any questions you might have that are directly or indirectly related to the Covid-19 crisis.
The above information is merely intended as comment on relevant issues of Belgian law and is not intended as legal advice. Before taking action or relying on the comments and the information given, please seek specific advice on the matters that concern you.