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Belgium considers adding 11th public holiday to calendar

15:57 13/07/2022

Belgium is considering adding an 11th public holiday to the calendar, although the proposal has not yet garnered approval from all stakeholders. 

There are currently 10 public holidays in Belgium, but a government agreement from September 2020 included the ability to create an additional one and federal minister for employment Pierre-Yves Dermagne (PS) has expressed his support. 

Dermagne has sent a request to each of Belgium’s three regions asking them to choose which day they would like to set aside as a holiday for all, including private sector employees. 

Flanders has already chosen 11 July and Brussels selected 8 May, but Wallonia has yet to make a decision. The Monday following the annual Walloon holiday (scheduled for the third Sunday in September) is under consideration, but Elio Di Rupo (PS) has not yet made the call. 

For workers living in one region but employed in another, the date followed would be the one in force where the company is based, meaning a Walloon employee working in Brussels would get a day off on 8 May.

Not everyone agrees on an extra day off

Still, nothing is set in stone: the idea of adding an 11th holiday to the calendar has proven divisive. 

The federal government says an additional day “does not entail any additional budgetary costs” when it comes to public finances, but the inspectorate of finances points out that the cost for companies could weaken Belgium's competitive position in the short term, given that the measure comes at a time of high inflation and soaring energy prices.

Employers and trade unions were also asked for comment, and unions voiced strong support. 

“The introduction of an additional paid holiday would be a nice gesture in view of the efforts made by workers to keep our companies and the economy going during the difficult circumstances of the coronavirus crisis,” reads the opinion issued back in February. 

“In addition, the introduction of such a provision would help to close the gap between our country's public holidays and those of other European countries. According to a comparative study by the consultancy Mercer, only four countries in the European Union have fewer paid public holidays than Belgium.”

But organisations representing employers raised objections, including that the day would be imposed by the government instead of being placed on the calendar by the companies via their social consultation body. 

They also claim that “the introduction of an additional public holiday would lead to an increase in hourly wage costs of 0.45%.” 

Employers say they also worry about organisational difficulties for employees working in one region while their children attend school in another, a factor that’s particularly applicable in Wallonia, where the new holiday would be very close to the Fête de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (27 September), when schools are already closed.

Photo: Groen presidency-candidates Nadia Naji and Jeremie Vaneeckhout at 8 May commemoration of the victory over fascism in Breendonck, 2022 © Belga/Nicolas Maeterlinck

 

Written by Helen Lyons