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Eurofound's COVID-19 EU PolicyWatch collates information on the responses of government and social partners to the crisis, as well as gathering examples of company practices aimed at mitigating the social and economic impacts.

Factsheet for case BE-2020-11/380 Updated – measures in Belgium

Extension of temporary unemployment due to force majeure

Verruiming van de tijdelijke werkloosheid wegens overmacht

Country Belgium , applies nationwide
Time period Temporary, 13 March 2020 – 31 August 2020
Type Legislations or other statutory regulations
Category Employment protection and retention
– Income support for people in employment (e.g. short-time work)
Author Dries Van Herreweghe (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) and Eurofound
Case created 08 April 2020 (updated 27 October 2020)
Related ERM support instrument

Background information

The measure was introduced due to the strong increase in requests for temporary unemployment (which normally can only be implemented under certain conditions). The measure alleviates pressure on the institutions that are tasked with organizing and distributing unemployment benefits, both the National Employment Office (NEO) and the trade unions (that also play an important role in paying out the unemployment benefits). The use of temporary unemployment means that the employers no longer have to pay the wages of their employees (the cost is transferred to the government through the unemployment benefit), thereby enabling them to reduce their costs and enhances their ability to better cope with the period of inactivity of the business.

The measures makes the procedure shorter and more simplified for employees in order to make sure that they receive their unemployment benefit as fast as possible.

Content of measure

From 13 March 2020, the notion of temporary unemployment due to force majeure will be flexibly applied by the NEO. All situations of temporary unemployment due to the corona virus can be considered as temporary unemployment due to force majeure, even if, for example, it is still possible to work on certain days.

For the duration of the restrictive measures, the employer is no longer obliged to send notices of temporary unemployment for reasons of force majeure to the competent unemployment office of the NEO.

The employee may use a simplified form to submit the application for benefits to the designated payment institution.

The employee receives a benefit equal to 70% of his average capped salary (capped at €2,754.76 per month).

The employee who is made temporarily unemployed due to force majeure (reason "coronavirus") will receive a supplement of €5.63 per day on top of the unemployment benefit, from the NEO. A withholding tax on professional income of 26.75% is deducted from the benefit.

Updates

The following updates to this measure have been made after it came into effect.

14 October 2020

The social partners decided to extend collective bargaining agreement number 147/147bis, which was agreed at the start of the corona crisis, from 1 July 2020 to 31 December 2021. The collective agreement provides for an employer's supplement of €5.63 per day of temporary unemployment per worker and provides access to the traditional system of economic unemployment for white-collar workers and the corona transitional system

28 August 2020

The system has been extended as well as adapted (starting September 2020). From that date, two systems will apply (one for companies or sectors that are considered to be very badly hit and one for companies that are less impacted but still require the measure):

  1. Companies that are 'particularly badly' affected by the corona crisis can continue to use the system of temporary unemployment due to force majeure by Corona until the end of this year. They must demonstrate that in the second quarter (April-May-June 2020), 20% of the total number of working days declared were days of temporary unemployment (force majeure due to Corona or economic unemployment).

  2. There are also sectors that have been recognised as 'particularly hardly hit'. The employer should do nothing for the taxi sector, the audiovisual sector, the hotel industry, entertainment companies, the socio-cultural sector, the tourist attractions sector. These are automatically recognised.

  3. For a number of sectors, the employer must file a declaration with the national unemployment offices and it only applies to certain activities (i.e. not automatically to all employees of the joint committee).

  4. Other companies can make use of the classic systems of temporary unemployment that already existed before the corona crisis: 'temporary unemployment for reasons of force majeure' and 'temporary unemployment for economic reasons'. Each system has its own criteria and formalities which may also deviate from the arrangements for the corona crisis. For this group the 'normal' rules become applicable again.

26 June 2020

The measure has been extended until the 31 August 2020.

Use of measure

At the peak of the crisis, approximately 1.2 million employees made use of the system of temporary unemployment out of an active population of less than 4 million.

Target groups

Workers Businesses Citizens
Employees in standard employment
Does not apply to businesses Does not apply to citizens

Actors and funding

Actors Funding
National government
Trade unions
Employers' organisations
Company / Companies
Public support service providers
National funds

Social partners

Social partners' role in designing the measure and form of involvement:

Trade unions Employers' organisations
Role Agreed (outcome) incl. social partner initiative Agreed (outcome) incl. social partner initiative
Form Consultation through tripartite or bipartite social dialogue bodies Consultation through tripartite or bipartite social dialogue bodies

Social partners' role in the implementation, monitoring and assessment phase:

  • Social partners jointly
  • Main level of involvement: Unknown

Involvement

The National Labour Council provides advice and a collective agreement (147) has been signed which formalizes the measure until the 30 June.

Views and reactions

Besides this agreement and advice discussions are taking place between trade unions and employers: trade unions claim that some employers abuse temporary unemployment and place sick employees (with sicknesses that have no connection to Corona) within the temporary unemployment sickness system to reduce costs, while in practice this is forbidden and they have to continue to provide guaranteed salary to those employees. Many of these companies that abuse this situation are in fact even still functioning properly despite the Corona measures.

Sources

  • 18 March 2020: National Labour Council (www.cnt-nar.be)
  • 20 March 2020: National Employment Office (www.rva.be)
  • 23 March 2020: Federal Office for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue (werk.belgie.be)
  • 26 March 2020: Misbruik van regelingen door werkgevers moet ophouden! (www.hetacv.be)
  • 08 April 2020: De Tijd: Coronacrisis kost Belgische economie dit jaar 45 miljard euro' (www.tijd.be)
  • 08 April 2020: Vakbonden hekelen opnieuw misbruik tijdelijke werkloosheid bij ziekte (www.hln.be)
  • 28 August 2020: Tijdelijk werkloos door corona: nieuwe regeling vanaf 1 septembe (www.abvv.be)
  • 14 September 2020: Social agreement to guide companies further through the Covid-19 crisis (www.vbo-feb.be)

Citation

Eurofound (2020), Extension of temporary unemployment due to force majeure, case BE-2020-11/380 (measures in Belgium), COVID-19 EU PolicyWatch, Dublin, http://eurofound.link/covid19eupolicywatch

Disclaimer: This information has not been subject to the full Eurofound evaluation, editorial and publication process. All information is preliminary and subject to change.