The traditional five-day week with working hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. no longer suits the expectations of many employees.

Large corporations in particular are now offering employees flexible working time models.

The states are also reacting.

Iceland, for example, tested the four-day week model with full wage compensation in a large-scale field trial - with positive consequences for productivity and well-being, stress and burnout cases fell.

There are similar approaches elsewhere in the world.

The traffic light government's coalition agreement contains at least a commitment to more flexible working hours, even if Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) obviously has other priorities.

Henrik Kafsack

Business correspondent in Brussels.

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Belgium, meanwhile, is not opting for less work for the same wage, but for more flexibility in the division of weekly working hours in order to give employees one extra day off per week.

After months of wrangling, the seven-party government has agreed on the necessary labor market reforms.

"We are working on a sustainable, innovative and digital economy," stressed Prime Minister Alexander De Croo of the Flemish Liberals afterwards.

"The first pillar is to give employees more flexibility, more freedom." This should benefit the compatibility of work and private life.

In concrete terms, employees should in future be given the opportunity to work four more days a week than stipulated in the employment contract and to take the fifth day off for this purpose.

This can, but does not have to be, Monday or Friday.

A worker with a 38-hour week would then have to work nine and a half hours over four days instead of the usual 7 hours and 36 minutes over five days, government officials calculated.

More flexibility for employees

In addition, as a further option, employees should be able to flexibly spread their working hours over two weeks.

You could then work up to 45 hours one week and then go down to 31 hours the following week.

This is primarily intended for parents who live separately, who in Belgium usually split up the care of the children on a weekly basis.

This would give you the opportunity to spend more time with the children during the week.

During the two-month summer vacation, they should also be allowed to work two weeks at a time longer and then two weeks at a time shorter.

However, there is one important limitation when it comes to the right to more flexibility: In both cases, employees must apply to their employer for this.

He can also refuse the flexible working hours, but then he has to justify it.

For small and medium-sized companies in particular, however, it should be relatively easy to reject the application, citing the small number of employees and the tasks to be distributed.

Whether the four-day week is introduced in a company depends not only on its size, but also on how the work processes are organized and who can take on which tasks.

This is one of the reasons why trade unions and employers should play an important role in shaping the details of the new rules.

If an employer has approved one of the two options, they are initially valid for half a year, but can then be extended.

employment rate to increase

For the government, the agreement is a contribution to giving workers their “freedom” back.

But it's also about getting more people into work.

The goal is an employment rate of 80 percent by 2030. The current figure is just 71.5 percent.

For comparison: In Germany, the employment rate is around 75.5 percent.

It will still be a few months before the new Belgian labor market rules come into force.

The Belgian parliament should finally vote on it before the summer break.

Part of the package of labor market reforms are new requirements for workers in the so-called gig economy.

This includes the drivers of delivery services such as Deliveroo or taxi services such as Uber, because like musicians they are paid per “gig”.

The question of whether such courier drivers and similar employees are self-employed or employees with corresponding rights has occupied courts across Europe for years.

There are hundreds of divergent judgments.

The European Commission therefore proposed new rules for the entire EU in December, which the government in Belgium is now largely anticipating.

Under certain conditions, those who work for platforms are therefore initially classified as employees.

That should depend on five criteria.

These are that the client supervises the work, determines payment for orders, specifies working hours, specifies specifications for clothing and prohibits them from building up their own customer base.

The platforms have to prove the opposite if they want to change the status.