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Last week, the Council of Ministers approved new regulations which are supposed to improve the protection of temporary agency workers in Belgium, one of the largest and most regulated staffing markets in Europe. However, many of the changes will impair rather than promote flexibility.
The new rules, which will also amend the use of one-day contracts, will be enforced on 1 April 2013, following lengthy debates between the country’s labour council and social partners.
The Council said that the new regulations will “modernise” the staffing industry and focus on some core areas, including extending companies’ obligation to inform trade unions about their use of temporary agency work. This will give unions a better overview of the use of temporary work, allowing them to detect “potential problems” at a faster rate, the Council said.
Moreover, the use of successive one-day contracts will be limited and these can only be used repeatedly by the same user company if it can prove an absolute need for such contracts. The so-called 48-hour rule, which allows for a written employment contract to be produced within 48 hours from the start of the assignment, will also be phased out.
As part of a scheme to hire more temporary workers permanently, companies will also have to justify their reasons if they do not take agency workers on board on a permanent basis.
The purpose of the changes is to broadly improve working conditions and prevent abuses in the staffing market. It forms part of a coalition agreement last year which aims to increase employment opportunities and the quality of employment in the staffing industry.
Belgium remains one of the most restrictive markets for temporary labour and this new legislation creates more obligations for employers at a time when the EU Agency Work Directive is supposed to be encouraging European governments to remove unnecessary restrictions. The suggestion that these changes are an improvement on the current legislative environment or are, in any way. ‘modern’ is entirely subjective.
Herwig Muyldermans, spokesperson of the association of private employment agencies in Belgium (Federgon), said in a statement to Staffing Industry Analysts: "Federgon is pleased with the fact that the Belgian government is executing what was agreed upon between employers and unions earlier this year. The government is respecting a correct timing in handling this issue. For Federgon the most important items in the new regulation are that temp work can be used as a motive to engage people on a permanent basis. The second important item is that successive one-day contracts still are allowed when flexibility is needed."