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Hospitality sector to take action against new flexible working restrictions

11:38 12/03/2024

Representatives of the hotel, restaurant and catering (horeca) sector will take legal action against new flexi-work legislation at Belgium’s constitutional court, announcing: “We want to support entrepreneurs keen to develop and workers who choose to work more.”

Flexible working contracts allow the hospitality industry to hire extra staff without having to employ them permanently. This type of contract has existed since December 2015 in Belgium and the number of ‘flexi-workers’ increased by almost 50% in 2023.

New legislation entering into force this year will mean more sectors – manufacturing, public administration and education – will be able to use flexi workers. Some healthcare jobs can also be classified as flexible.

But on the negative side, many employers say, it lays down a €12,000 limit on tax-free income from flexi-work per year.

The new rules also set a maximum wage (€16.78/hour, 150% of the minimum wage of €11/hour) and a ban on an ‘flexible’ workers going into contracted employment.

The Horeca Wallonia, Brussels and Flanders associations are critical of these measures, saying they will make flexi-work unnecessarily complicated and so not as attractive for firms who want to grow or businesses keen to work more hours.

These new restrictions would also crucially aggravate the labour shortage, the heads of cafes and restaurants say.

“The government is tightening this access to flexible working by imposing ceilings,” said Massimo Falasca, owner of Mons café Le Quartier Latin.

The organisations also criticise that employers’ social security contributions have gone up from 25% to 28%.

“In these challenging times for employers, we resent the increase in employers’ social contributions, even though we accept that the government has the right to decide to raise or decrease taxes," the sector said.

Condemning the lack of a transition period to implement the new rules and that an assessment of this new law will not be assured until end-2025, they demand a "rapid reaction from politicians via work in Parliament and a ‘round table’ with sector organisations with the aim of returning to a flexible, attractive and simple system".

The federations added: “We consider that it would have been more sensible to carry out an assessment before taking a decision, and, moreover, to take into account the experience of a sector that has worked for a long time with flexi-jobs.

"If abuse of the system were possible, the federations would have liked a dialogue to have been started to see how problems could have been solved together."

In theory, flexi-work constitutes an extra job on top of primary income, but it is increasingly becoming a main source of employment in Belgium.

According to social security office ONSS data, in 2022, there were 60,363 flexi jobs in the hospitality sector (excluding temporary workers).

Horeca flexi-workers received more than €224 million (net) a year and brought Belgium more than €56 million in employers’ social contributions.

Written by Liz Newmark