First legal step taken by the Council of Ministers
During its meeting of 27 September 2013, the Belgian Council of Ministers approved a draft act regarding the unified statute for white and blue-collar workers. This draft act constitutes a first important step in the legal enactment of the political agreement which was reached in the beginning of July 2013. After months of difficult negotiations, with several mediation interventions by the Minister of Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue, the social partners finally agreed on a political framework agreement regarding the unification of the white and blue-collar statutes. The unification of these two worker statutes was legally required, given the case law of the Constitutional Court of Belgium, which qualified the legal differences between blue and white-collar workers as discriminatory. The Constitutional Court set a binding deadline for the Belgian legislator: the two worker statutes had to be unified at the latest by 8 July 2013. The Council of Ministers confirmed the political agreement regarding the unified statute for white and blue collar workers during their meeting of 8 July 2013. The current draft act, approved by the Council of Ministers, is foreseen to enter into force 1 January 2014. The specific modalities of the unified statute, as stipulated in the draft act, are not entirely clear at this point. However, based on the press release by the Council of Ministers, several important main principles can already be distinguished.
Overview of main principles of the unified statute
New termination rules
The two termination systems which currently exist separately for white and blue collar employees shall be replaced with one unified system of termination rules, which shall apply to all workers. When terminating the employment relationship, the employer shall have to take into account the following notice periods (or pay out a corresponding severance pay):
|Duration of the employment agreement||Mandatory notice period|
|First quarter||= 2 weeks|
|Second quarter||= 4 weeks|
|Third quarter||= 6 weeks|
|Fourth quarter||= 7 weeks|
|Fifth quarter||= 8 weeks|
|Sixth quarter||= 9 weeks|
|Seventh quarter||= 10 weeks|
|Eighth quarter||= 11 weeks|
|Year 2-3||= 12 weeks|
|Year 3-4||= 13 weeks|
|Year 4-5||= 15 weeks|
From the fifth year on, up until the 19th year of seniority, the notice period shall be increased by three weeks per additional year of seniority started. As from the 20th year of seniority, the increase of the length of the notice period shall occur less rapidly. According to the current information, the employee shall be entitled to one additional week of notice period for each year of seniority reached above the threshold of 20 years. Please note that this new legislation shall apply to both the employment agreements concluded before as well as after 1 January 2014. With regard to the employment agreements concluded before this date, a set of transition rules shall be introduced in order to safeguard termination rights built up/acquired by the employees up until 1 January 2014 (cf. for those entitled to higher notice periods under the current legislation compared to the new termination rules).
Taking into account that the new unified termination system provides for rather limited notice periods at the beginning of the employment relationship (cf. a two week notice period if the employment agreement is terminated in the first quarter), the Council of Ministers decided to abolish the possibility to include a probation period in the employment agreement.
The so-called ‘carenz day’ shall also be abolished. The carenz day is part of the blue-collar worker statute. The general rule of the carenz day states that the blue-collar worker shall not receive any compensation for his first day of illness (no guaranteed salary by the employer, and no compensatory indemnity by the healthcare fund). The blue-collar worker is currently only entitled to guaranteed paid sick leave as from the second day of illness. The white-collar worker on the other hand, is entitled to guaranteed paid sick leave as from the first day of illness. This legal difference, qualified as discriminatory by the Constitutional Court, shall cease to exist as from 1 January 2014.
Motivation of the dismissal
Contrary to many of our neighbouring countries, the employer has currently no explicit legal obligation to give the underlying motivation of a dismissal decision. This will also change: a general obligation for all employers to explain a termination decision shall be introduced.
The employer shall be obliged to offer outplacement services to each employee dismissed with a notice period of at least 30 weeks, that is to say, an employee with a seniority of at least nine years.
Future steps in the completion of the unified statute
As stated above, this draft act is only the first step in the legal enactment process. The draft act shall now be submitted to the Council of State for review and, in a later stage, will be subject to debate in the Belgian Parliament. Please also note that there are still different outstanding issues on which the social partners need to reach a negotiated agreement, in order to obtain an overall unification of the blue and white-collar worker statutes (e.g. the unification of the holiday rules). We shall of course follow the further legal progress of the unified statute closely, and keep you updated on a regular basis.