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Working time and rest periods

These matters are provided for in the Labour Act of 16 March 1971 and in the Public holidays Act of 4 January 1974.
 

Normal limits on working time

Principle

Working time means the time during which a worker is available to the employer (in other words the time during which he is under his authority) and which he cannot use freely as he sees fit.

Accordingly, working time may be more extensive than the periods during which work is actually performed (e.g. on-call period during on-call duty).

Maximum daily working time

In Belgium, working time may not exceed eight hours a day. Moreover, daily work must in principle be performed between 6 am and 8 pm (because of the ban on night work (see below)).

However, daily working time may be increased as follows:

  • 9 hours if the worker does not work more than 5½ days a week (work schedule in which the worker, in addition to his weekly day of rest, has at least half a day's rest);
  • 10 hours if the workers are absent from home for more than 14 hours a day because of the distance between the workplace and their place of residence or stay.

Maximum weekly working time

The general rule is that the weekly work schedule that can be applied in undertakings is:

  • either 38 effective hours a week ;
  • or 38 hours on average over a specified reference period.
    Nonetheless, even in such a case, it is important to point out that the effective weekly working time cannot exceed in principle 40 hours.  

    Examples :

  • effective work for 40 hours a week with the allocation of 12 compensatory days of rest (over a one-year reference period) ;

  • effective work for 39 a week with allocation of 6 compensatory days of rest. 

Minimum daily working time

Except for derogations (laid down by royal decree or collective agreement), the length of each work session cannot be less than three hours.

Derogations from the maximum limits on working time

In principle, it is prohibited to exceed the daily and weekly working time limits.
 

However, there are a number of derogations.

First of all, there are structural derogations connected with particular work schemes which have a certain durability as to their application.  

In some cases, a derogation is directly permitted by law without prior authorisation:

In other cases, authorisation is required by royal decree:

  • in particular industrial sectors or for particular categories of undertakings and sectors of undertakings where the normal limits on working time cannot be complied with (maximum 11 hours/day and 50 hours/week);
  • for preparatory or follow-up work which must necessarily be carried out outside normal production time (maximum 11 hours/day and 50 hours/week).

    NB: The royal decree should lay down the cases for which the derogation is permitted and also the various maximum limits and conditions of application, where appropriate.

NB: Undertakings within the purview of the joint committee for the building sector (JC  124) are authorised to exceed the limits of company working time (maximum 9 hours/day and 45 hours/week) for up to 180 hours per calendar year, during the summer period or in a period of intense activity. This derogation is subject to the prior approval of the trade union representative (in the absence of the trade union representative, the employer must inform the chairman of the joint committee).

There are also specific derogations (overtime)

Particular types of overtime require:

  • Either prior authorisation by royal decree:
     
    • for transport operations, loading and unloading (maximum 11 hours/day and 50 hours/week);
    • for sectors where the substances processed can degenerate very quickly (maximum 11 hours/day and 50 hours/week);
    • for work whose execution time cannot be clearly defined because of the nature of that work (maximum 11 hours/day and 50 hours/week); 
     
  • Or prior authorisation by the trade union representative and the inspector/head of district of General Directorate for Supervision of Social Legislation (in the absence of a trade union representative, authorisation by the inspector/head of district suffices) :
    • in case of exceptional increase of work (maximum 11 hours/day and 50 hours/week).
     

Overtime may also be performed in case of force majeure:

  • without particular formality: 
  •  
    • to carry out work for third parties to deal with the threat of an accident or an accident that has occurred;
    • to carry out urgent work on machinery or equipment for third parties;
    • to carry out work within the undertaking to deal with the threat of an accident or an accident that has occurred;
    • to carry out urgent work within the undertaking on machinery or equipment.
       
  • with the prior agreement of the trade union representative (or a posteriori  information to the representative) and notification of the inspector/head of district: 
    • for work necessary because of unforeseen circumstances (maximum 11 hours/day and 50 hours/week).
       

The normal working time limits may also be exceeded for stock-staking (maximum 11 hours/day and 50 hours/week). This derogation may be used only in respect of work effectively carried out for a period of seven days per worker and per calendar year.

NB: The normal working time limits may also be exceeded in accordance with flexible work schedules and the new labour schemes.

Compensatory rest

In most cases in which the normal limits on working time may be exceeded, compensatory rest periods must be granted to ensure that the normal weekly working time (38 hours or that determined by collective agreement) is complied with over a reference period.

In principle, this reference period is a quarter. However, it may be increased to one year by royal decree, a collective agreement or, in the absence of a royal decree or collective agreement applicable to the undertaking, by the undertaking's terms and conditions of employment.

Derogations giving rise to compensatory rest periods:

  • working in successive shifts 
  • continuous work for technical reasons 
  • work to which the normal working time limits cannot be applied
  • preparatory and follow-up work
  • transport operations, loading and unloading
  • work whose execution time cannot be determined
  • working with substances that degrade quickly
  • exceptional increase of work
  • work necessary because of unforeseen circumstances
  • work to deal with the threat of an accident or an accident that has occurred or urgent repairs to machinery or equipment by workers of a third party

Payment for overtime

Apart from the rules concerning the granting of compensatory rest periods, particular instances in which the normal working time limits are exceeded also give rise to overtime payment as a supplement to the normal wage/salary.

All work done in excess of the 9 hours a day and 40 hours a week (or lower limits determined by a collective agreement involving an effective reduction of daily or weekly length of working time) gives rise to entitlement to overtime payment.

Example:

The average weekly working time applicable within the undertaking is 38 hours. However, the workers perform 40 effective hours of work and enjoy 12 compensatory days of rest a year in accordance with the reduction of working time to 38 hours. Any hours worked in excess of the 9 hours and 40 hours (and not 38 hours) give the workers the right to overtime payment.

If, however, weekly working time is 38 effective hours (and the workers thus perform 38 hours effective work a week), hours worked in excess of the 38 hours give the workers the right to overtime payment.
 
The rate of overtime payment is a follows:

  • 50% for hours worked during the week, including on Saturday;
  • 100% for hours worked on Sunday or a public holiday.

Overtime payment must be calculated on the basis of ordinary remuneration, i.e. the average hourly wage that should be paid for the day or week when the worker did overtime.

Derogations giving rise to overtime payment:
 

  • preparatory or follow-up work;
  • transport operations, loading and unloading;
  • work whose execution time cannot be determined;
  • working with substances which may degenerate very quickly;
  • exceptional increase of work;
  • work justified by unforeseen circumstances;
  • work carried out to deal with an accident that has occurred or the treat of an accident or urgent repair to machinery or equipment;
  • work on stock-taking and balance-sheets.

Breaks and interruptions of work

Breaks during continuous work (the breaks)

If  working time exceeds six hours, the worker must be granted a break.
The duration and conditions for granting breaks are laid down by a collective agreement concluded at sectorial level or company level. If there is no collective agreement, the worker should be granted a quarter of an hour's break no later than the moment when the length of work reaches six hours.

Interruptions of work between two work sessions

Interruption of work means the minimum rest period which the worker enjoys between two work sessions.

Per 24-hour period, i.e. between two daily work sessions, each worker is entitled to an interruption of work of at least 11 consecutive hours.

This obligatory interruption of 11 hours must, as appropriate, be aggregated either with the Sunday rest (24 hours) or with the compensatory rest period granted for work performed on Sunday so that the worker has a total weekly period of interruption of work of 35 consecutive hours.

However, an interruption of less than 11 hours or non-aggregation of this interruption with Sunday rest is permitted:

  • in case of in force majeure : accident, urgent work on machinery;
  • for work characterised by divided periods (e.g. in restaurants);
  • for work in successive shifts (or for continuous or semi-continuous work) at the time when the worker changes shifts;
  • in other cases to be determined by a sectorial collective agreement that has been declared generally binding by royal decree.

Sunday rest

It is prohibited to employ workers on Sundays.

Nonetheless, derogations from the prohibition on working on Sundays allow to employ workers on Sundays in particular sectors of for the performance of particular activities.
 


Night work

In principle, night work is prohibited.
 

Nonetheless, there are a number of derogations from this prohibition principle.

Public holidays

Except in case of derogations provided by the Belgian Legislation, workers cannot beemployed on 10 statutory public holidays per calendar year, irrespective of thenature of their job, their seniority and the duration of their work.

Compliance with work schedules

It is prohibited for the employer to instruct his workers to carry out work outside the schedule of working hours laid down in the terms and conditions of employment.

However, there are exceptions, namely for:

  • work justified because of unforeseen circumstances;
  • work carried out to deal with an accident that has occurred or the threat of an accident or an urgent repair to machinery or equipment;
  • stock-taking and drawing up balance-sheets;
  • work whose execution time cannot be determined;
  • work involving substances which may degenerate very quickly;
  • work carried out in undertakings for ships repairs and maintenance;
  • transport operations, loading and unloading.

NB: If the employer has served a LIMOSA notification of posting (which is obligatory from…), he is exempt for a period of 12 months from having to draw up the terms and conditions of employment as required by Belgian law. In the LIMOSA notification of posting, the employer must specify the weekly hours of work and the work schedules that will be applicable during the workers' period of posting to Belgium.


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