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 Policy Blog

AmCham Belgium proposes reforming termination of employment rules

Date: 09/03/2012 12:46:00

On February 16, 2012, AmCham Belgium’s Human Resources(HR) Committee published a position paper with proposals to reform Belgium’s termination of employment rules in order to achieve harmonization between blue and white collar status.

For over 100 years, Belgian law distinguished between blue and white collar workers. During that century, both categories developed separately, leading to major legal differences and a more beneficial treatment for white collar workers, especially when it comes to termination of employment rules.

Even if differences between blue and white collar worker status cannot be eliminated through one simple amendment, Belgium is the only European country that still uses this distinction, making it a rather pressing and reprehensible issue. Moreover, the Constitutional Court’s Case of July 7, 2011 – which ruled the differences in termination of employment rules as contrary to Article 10 and 11 of Belgium’s Constitution – is now forcing the legislator to eliminate this unconstitutionality before July 8, 2013, so that blue collar workers are able to benefit from the more favorable protection currently attributed to white collar workers.

Although the autonomous decision of the Constitutional Court to eliminate discrimination between blue and white collar workers is welcomed, the streamlining of both statutes might have profound financial consequences for employers in Belgium. The two year timeframe during which the government is required to remove the distinctions is – given the already overscheduled agenda of Di Rupo I – rather short. Moreover, if the government fails to meet the deadline, employers will have to carry the complete financial load once blue collar employees are able to benefit from the white collar status (potentially retrospectively).

Therefore, social partners have worked over the past year to find a solution that keeps in mind all aspects related to termination of employment, such as social security, employees’ income, the cost of labor, competitiveness, and the maintenance of the financial balance of social security in view of Belgium’s budget. Although progress has been made, expensive severance packages for all dismissals make layoffs costly for employers, which is undoubtedly to the detriment of our competitive position as an economy.

AmCham Belgium’s position
Bearing this in mind, AmCham Belgium’s HR Committee published a position paper with proposals to reform Belgium’s termination of employment rules on February 16, 2012. The current distinctions between blue and white collar workers are disregarded in favor of a unified dismissal program that will benefit both employers and employees. AmCham Belgium’s recommendations aim to provide legal certainty, which is one on the most important issues companies face today in respect of the termination of employment contracts. It also proposes to impose an obligation to motivate dismissals, while at the same time lowering the length of notice periods according to seniority and the salary being earned, in line with other European jurisdictions. Additionally, it limits the intervention of the court to a minimum in the phase in which the notice period and severance pay is fixed. Other aspects of dismissal rules, such as the termination of the employment of employee representatives, termination due to gross misconduct, resignation and termination by common consent, will not be affected by AmCham Belgium’s proposal. To read more on AmCham Belgium’s recommendations for termination of employment rules, please click here.



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