Two new Collective Labour Agreements numbers 148 and 103/5 were adopted on 7 October 2020 by the Belgian National Council for Labour (Conseil National du Travail / CNT_NAR).
Collective labour agreement No. 148 (“CLA 148”) re-introduces a regime for partial or total suspension of an employee’s contract of employment due to a lack of work that results from economic causes related to the coronavirus crisis.
On 18 March 2020, the social partners had already adopted CLA No. 147 which is somewhat similar to CLA 148. CLA 147 was, concluded for a fixed term, and ended on 30 June 2020 without having been very successful, given the extensive interpretation authorised by the Belgian National Employment Office (“ONEM-RVA”) of the concept of force majeure and massive recourse by employers to the temporary unemployment scheme for force majeure (the “Corona unemployment scheme”).
In view of the restrictions applied since 1 September 2020 by the legislator in order to be able to benefit from the Corona unemployment scheme, it was necessary to reintroduce a supplementary temporary unemployment scheme taking account of economic reasons for those employers:
- excluded from the Corona unemployment scheme; and
- subject to the rules of a joint labour committee which had not adopted an economic unemployment scheme at sectoral level; or
- which had not adopted a CLA or a business plan to this effect, in accordance with the general scheme set out in Articles 77/1 et seq. of the [Labour] Law of 3 July 1978.
It is in this context that CLA 148 was adopted with retroactive effect from 1 July 2020 and for a period of validity that runs until 31 December 2021.
Based on the transitional regime laid down by Royal Decree N° 46 of 2020, CLA 148 provides for a simplified procedure for companies that can no longer make use of temporary unemployment measures based on reasons of force majeure, and grants:
- an additional credit of 8 weeks of temporary unemployment for economic reasons,
- the abolition of the approval procedure for collective labour agreements or business plans by the “business plans” Commission,
- proof of a substantial decrease of at least 10% in turnover or production in the quarter preceding the introduction of this regime compared to the corresponding quarter of 2019,
- in addition, the company must offer two days of training per month to employees who have been placed on temporary unemployment.
CLA No. 148 is applicable to employees hired under an employment contract but also those hired under a work-linked training or professional transition programme.
It stipulates that the total duration of the suspension may not exceed 16 weeks per calendar year in the case of complete suspension of the employment contract and 26 weeks in the case of reduced working hours.
Two weeks of reduced working hours are equivalent to one week of full suspension of the contract.
Per calendar year, following the preceding programme under CLA 148, the company may not exceed, a maximum duration of 24 weeks in the case of complete suspension and weeks in the case of reduced working time arrangements (whereas, under the general regime laid down in Chapter II/1 of Title III of the Act of 3 July 1978, the total duration of the suspension may not exceed 16 weeks per calendar year in the case of complete suspension of the employment contract and 26 weeks in the case of reduced working hours. Two weeks of reduced working hours are equivalent to one week of full suspension of the contract).
Finally, CCT No. 148 requires the payment of a supplement, payable by the employer for the benefit of the employee, of a minimum amount of EUR 5.63 per day of unemployment benefit (this supplement must be at least equal to the supplement due to workers of the same employer and/or the joint labour committee to which the employer belongs, in the case of temporary unemployment for economic reasons).
By collective labour agreement no. 103/5, the periods of corona-virus related time credit (end of career) and coronavirus related parental leave are not taken into account for the determination of workers’ rights to a “standard” time-credit set by CCT no. 103. Thus, only the seniority acquired by the worker before and after taking of specific coronavirus related leave are to be taken into account to determine whether the condition that requires 12- or 24-months’ seniority before acquiring entitlement to standard time-credit has been met.