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Belgium – New bill will change little for temporary workers as restrictions persist

30 May 2012

Last week, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives adopted a bill which will see “minor” changes in the temporary staffing market and implement parts of the Agency Workers Directive (AWD) by July this year. However, there is the prospect of more change to come in what is one of the most highly regulated staffing markets in Europe. Behind closed doors, negotiations are still ongoing between social partners that could lead to significant deregulation in Belgium during the summer.

Sophie Maes, a partner at the Brussels-based law firm, Claeys & Engels, confirmed to Staffing Industry Analysts that last week’s bill will primarily implement three minor changes including access to communal facilities, which client companies will have to make available to temporary workers in the future.

Once the bill is fully integrated into Belgian law, staffing buyers will also have to inform temporary workers of open vacancies at their firms in order to improve their opportunities of finding permanent employment.

And lastly, staffing buyers will also be responsible for ensuring anti-discrimination laws are fully complied with, something which will be especially applicable when it comes to pregnancy and maternity leave, and the protection of young workers by regulating working hours.

But the federation of temporary employment agencies in Belgium, Federgon, said in a statement to Staffing Industry Analysts that these changes will have little impact on overall improving working conditions for temporary staff.

“In Belgium temporary workers have already had, for several years now, nearly the same rights as employees with a fixed contract. The bill that was passed in Parliament last Thursday was only treating three minor details that weren’t regulated yet. The Belgium government, however, is not making any progress when it comes to the neutralizing of limitations and restrictions on temporary workers, for instance in the public sector.”

Temporary workers in Belgium are still restricted from working in certain industries, including the public sector. Ms Maes told Staffing Industry Analysts that the lifting of restrictions is currently being reviewed by both the Government and social partners but nothing is going to change until a collective agreement has been reached.

Among other issues currently being discussed is the potential addition to the reasons of use which employers have to meet in order to deploy temporary workers. Currently, temporary staff can only be used if they fulfil one of three criteria; to temporarily replace permanent employees, to help meet increased workloads at peak times and to perform special tasks. However, discussion is underway to include a fourth reason: enrolling temporary workers for a trial period to test their capabilities for a period of at least 7 days. However, it remains unclear if and when this change might be implemented.

The Belgian Government is also planning to abolish the so-called one-day contract when temporary workers are called in for a day’s work only. Although one-day contracts are permitted in many other European staffing markets, the Belgian government is making the change to clamp down on providers who have been (ab)using this to avoid paying temporary staff over public holidays. In the future, employers will have to hire temporary agency workers for at least 48 hours and it is expected that this draft bill will be implemented in July. 

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