Credit where credit is due: even though we still don’t have a new Belgian government, our interim government has been extremely efficient and pragmatic in introducing measures to combat the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
State-aided temporary unemployment where work becomes difficult or impossible
After an initial period of almost daily fine-tuning of the regime of temporary unemployment (or “furlough” as the UK now calls it), the rules in their final form are now very accessible and appropriate to the needs of businesses which are suffering:
- All employers experiencing a temporary closure of their business or a reduction in work flow may invoke temporary unemployment for force majeure;
- During the temporary unemployment, the employment contract is suspended (for the avoidance of doubt, it does not actually end) without pay;
- The temporary unemployment may be invoked on a full-time or part-time basis (for example alternating work days with days of unemployment);
- During periods of unemployment, employees are entitled to 70% of the previous salary (capped at 2,754.76 EUR gross per month) plus a daily allowance of 5.63 EUR (up to 150 EUR per month) payable directly to the employee by the National Unemployment Office;
- The process to register for temporary unemployment is very simple: it is enough for the employer to register the employees with the National Unemployment Office as temporarily unemployed, mentioning “Corona” as the justification.
Although there is no obligation to do so, employers can pay a supplement to the state allowance which would be free of social security contributions.
It is important to highlight also that the Belgian government has not made access to this temporary unemployment benefit contingent on the company’s commitment to refrain from redundancies at a later stage: if later terminations are still required, the company will not be asked to refund the allowances the employees had already received.
A boost to work where it is available
The Belgian government has in mind however not only employees who can’t work due to the virus, but equally those who still can, and are potentially working harder than ever.
On Friday morning, a new set of measures was introduced to make sure that businesses who still need staff will get that helping hand:
- Companies will be allowed to award “Corona bonuses” of up to 1,000 EUR per employee free of social security contributions and taxes to reward those carrying an increased workload or having to work in difficult circumstances because of the virus. Based on the information currently available, the bonus may be paid only once.
- So-called “vital industries” will be allowed more flexibility to ensure that the work can still be done:
- Overtime pay will be treated on a more tax-friendly basis;
- Social security contributions will be reduced for these industries.
- In general, more flexibility will be allowed in the work rosters, for student work, short-term contracts and temporary workers.
These measures come in addition to those communicated over the last weeks, such as the ability for employers to delay the payment of taxes and social security contributions.
Sometimes it takes a crisis for people to find their true form. It would appear thus far that for the Belgian government, the Corona crisis is just that ….