An Uber Eats delivery courier on bicycle on his way to deliver fast food in Ghent-Belgium on May 15, 2020.

An Uber Eats delivery courier on bicycle on his way to deliver fast food in Ghent-Belgium on May 15, 2020. (Photo: Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Belgian Workers Win Right to Request Four-Day Week

"The aim is to be able to make people and businesses stronger," said the prime minister.

Belgium announced Tuesday a package of labor reforms that includes affording workers the right to request a four-day work week.

"With this agreement, we set a beacon for an economy that is more innovative, sustainable, and digital," Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said at a press conference after the seven-party coalition government reached the agreement. "The aim is to be able to make people and businesses stronger."

The coronavirus pandemic, he added, "has forced us to work more flexibly and combine our private and working lives," which "has led to new ways of working."

Under the deal, according toThe Brussels Times, "employees can work a maximum of 9.5 hours per day, with the possibility of extending to 10 hours per day via a collective agreement between the company and trade unions to allow employees to complete their full-time working week in just four days."

An additional part of the agreement, Reuters reported, "introduces the right to disconnect after normal working hours for companies with more than 20 employees."

Other reforms affect so-called gig workers. According toPolitico EU:

Belgium will introduce a set of criteria to assess whether a platform worker is a contractor or employed, which aligns with the EU's proposal's approach. If enough criteria are fulfilled--it's not yet clear how many or which ones--gig workers will automatically be classified as employees. That status can, however, be challenged in front of a court of administrative authorities.

The new accord, however, left plenty of room for criticism from worker advocates.

"For companies, it will become easier to introduce evening and night work without prior agreement from all labor unions," as Bloombergnoted.

In addition, employers could refuse requests for a four-day work week, though they'd have to put their justification with "solid grounds" in writing.

That a single day's work could stretch into as many as 10 hours drew criticism from the 4 Day Week Campaign.

"We welcome more flexibility for workers to choose when they work," the campaign said, "but compressing a normal five-day week into four days is not the answer to tackling burnout, stress, and overwork."

"It's essential," the group added, for a shift to a four-day week to involve "a reduction in working hours, with no loss of pay."

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'Overwhelming Success': Researchers Praise Iceland's Four-Day Work Week Trials

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Experiments in four-day work weeks have taken off across the globe. A pre-pandemic pilot program in Iceland--in which workers were paid the same but worked less--was deemed an "overwhelming success," and the Welsh government is among those considering such a proposal.

Covid-19 has spurred widespread workplace changes, and for some companies, that's meant shortening the working week.

Online children's clothing retailer Primary is one such company.

"Throughout the pandemic, people will ask, 'When are you going back?'" Primary co-founder and co-CEO Christina Carbonell recently toldCNBC.

"For us, there's not really a 'going back,'" she said. "There's just sort of a new way forward that lets us imagine a new way for us to work."

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