The Belgian government is acutely aware that businesses will feel the impact of the Covid-19 crisis well beyond the summer months. To that end, a new set of measures was decided during the Inner Cabinet meeting of 12 June. Information on these measures is still scarce, but we thought we’d share the highlights with you now (and of course will update you when we can).
As a first measure, the special Corona parental leave has been extended until 30 September, which should help parents cover for summer camps being cancelled and grandma still being in quarantine. The state allowance for parental leave will also be increased for one-parent families.
The temporary unemployment (TU) for force majeure Corona has also been extended, thus far until 31 August. But the government looks further ahead. As of 1 September:
- Companies in the live events and travel sectors, which are obviously still very heavily impacted despite initial steps to relax lockdown, will continue to have access to the current regime of TU Corona; while
- Other companies may have access to a new version, which should be more flexible than the traditional TU for economic reasons, but for which they will have to demonstrate a 10% reduction in turnover as compared to last year. How this reduction is to be demonstrated is still unclear, but it is expected that the procedure will not be too burdensome.
In this new regime, the state allowance for employees will remain at the same level. The employer should offer at least 2 days of training for each month of TU. It is expected that after a period of full time suspension (probably 8 weeks), employees will have to be called back to work for at least one week before a second period of TU can kick in.
It will also become easier to reimburse tax-efficiently the expenses incurred by employees when working from home, up to 127 EUR per month.
Companies experiencing economic difficulties will also be allowed to introduce a collective working time reduction by 20 or 25% of the weekly working time. If they do, they will receive a reduction in their employer’s social security contributions which should at least in part serve to compensate the reduction in pay for the employees. The reduction in working time will be allowed until June 2021. Since the implementation of such a reduction will require the support of your unions, it is good to know that this specific measure was heavily lobbied for by the trade unions.
Lastly, companies will be allowed to introduce a Corona career break, where the individual employee voluntarily reduces their working time by half or by 1/5th and receives a (modest) state allowance to compensate for the loss of income. The “end of career” career breaks that we already know today will become accessible as from the age of 55 as opposed to 57 currently.
With these measures, government attention has shifted from rescuing companies in acute distress to the more long term recovery, where companies are provided with the means to redistribute the available work among members of staff, allowing those who want to do so, to temporarily take a step back (and finally, to bake that lockdown sourdough bread which social media says everyone else is making in their idyllic designer kitchens festooned with their winsome children, but which no-one I know in the real world has the time even to dream about).
If this is what an interim government can do, one can only be curious as to what a fully-fledged new government with popular backing could achieve. Rumour on the Belgian street is that we should have one by September. Optimism is a moral duty.