Several countries have already adopted or experimented with the abbreviated workweek in the post-COVID scenario. But unlike Belgium, most companies and countries have cut down on the workweek without ramping up hours on workdays.
Belgium has joined a host of other countries that are offering employees a four-day workweek as part of its changes in labour laws in a post-COVID era.
Announcing the reform package, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said the employee empowerment policy would make people and businesses stronger after two difficult years with the pandemic.
"The Covid period has forced us to work more flexibly -- the labour market needs to adapt to that," the PM told journalists at a press conference.
A number of countries have already adopted or experimented with the abbreviated workweek. Unlike Belgium, most companies and countries have cut down on the workweek without making employees put in more hours on workdays. Here’s a look at the new rules in Belgium and the other countries that have tried the shorter workweek structure.
Rules in Belgium
Those who opt for the new work regime will have to put in 10 hours of work per day instead of the current eight hours, once the trade unions approve the work hours. The move opens the possibility of a long weekend or a day of parenting without taking a pay cut.
The labour policy will also give workers the right to disconnect or turn off their work devices and ignore work-related messages from the office after work hours without reprisal.
Belgians will also be allowed to choose to put in more work hours one week and lesser the following, allowing workers to better manage their work-life balance. However, these requests will require the approval of the manager.
According to Belgian Labour Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne, the employer would have to provide “solid reasons for any refusal" of such requests.
The four-day worksheet will not be introduced immediately, the document released by the federal government said, adding that unions would have to agree to the draft Bill before amendments are made. This will be scrutinised by the Council of State advising the government before being put in for voting in Parliament.
Those opting for the four-day workweek can do it for a trial six-month period. Later, they can decide to stay on the shortened workweek or opt out of it.
Scotland and Wales
The four-day workweek is currently under trial in Scotland. The state is supporting companies participating in the programme with about 10 million pounds. Work hours have been reduced by 20 percent without a pay cut.
Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner in Wales, has requested the government to embark on a similar workweek trial, at least in the public sector.
Spain is looking to run a trial of the four-day workweek. The government has agreed on reducing the hours in a week to 32 over three years with full pay. The trial is due to run for a year although it is not clear when it will begin.
Japan is also considering implementing a four-day workweek. In 2019, Microsoft Japan tried a shorter workweek programme. The company engaged in the programme to see if the flexible work hours result in a corresponding increase in productivity and better morale of the employees. The results were positive. Workers seemed to be happier and 40 percent more productive.
In 2021, Iceland announced that its trials of a four-day week were an "overwhelming success" with many workers opting for shorter spells. The trials, which were conducted between 2015 and 2019 over 2,500 people, allowed workers to work for 35 to 36-hour workweeks without pay cuts. Researchers said productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces following the change.
After the success of the test phase, the trade unions in the country negotiated permanent cuts in working hours and 86 percent of workforce have opted for a four-day week.
The UAE was the first nation to adopt the four-and-a-half-day workweek in 2022. Weekend for federal government entities starts midday Friday and last through Sunday. The employees work from 7.30 am to 3.30 pm from Monday to Thursday and 7.30 am to noon on Fridays.
In 2015, Sweden experimented with a four-day working week with full pay, but received a mixed response. Left-wing parties said the project would be too expensive to implement on a large scale. However, some companies retained the reduced hours for their workers.