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League of Families campaigns for workers to get more paid annual leave

15:52 22/07/2023

Workers in Belgium deserve more days of paid leave each year, as the country lags behind some of its European neighbours, according to Belgium’s League of Families, the group defending the rights of families in Brussels and Wallonia, and several trade unions.

The legal minimum for paid leave in Belgium is currently 20 days - the same as in the Netherlands - while Germany and Finland have 24, France, Denmark and Sweden have 25, Luxembourg benefits from 26 and Spain tops the list with 30 days.

The League of Families and the CSC (Confederation of Christian Unions), FGTB (General Federation of Belgian Workers) and MOC (Christian Workers’ Movement) say that all full-time workers in Belgium should be entitled to five extra days - in other words, 25 days’ annual leave.

Luxembourg centre-right MEP Christophe Hansen said that there should be more harmonisation on the continent, to “take account of people who work on both sides of the border”.

“20 days is really very little,” said Hansen, a father. “Children often get sick. Days off are sometimes used for that.”

CSC secretary general Marie-Hélène Ska also called for low- and high-income families to have the same rights when applying for additional days off. Figures show that low-earning parents are less entitled to supplementary holiday than families whose income exceeds €3,000 net per month.

This measure is however difficult to negotiate with companies especially, as in Belgium, it has been more than 40 years since the number of paid days’ annual leave has increased.

“Additional days off have often been a matter of negotiation where workers have union representatives,” Ska adds. “Where this is not the case, it is 20 legal days, full stop. This is why we want all public and private company employees to be able to take 25 days’ leave.”

The organisations say that 25 days is a minimum to allow workers, especially parents, to have a proper work-life balance. It would also help to stop exhaustion, illness and parental and professional burnout.

But not everyone agrees. Monica De Jonghe, managing director of the Belgian Workers’ Federation (FEB) said that extra days off “would have an enormous cost for businesses”.

She referred in particular to the move to allow Belgians an extra day’s holiday on 8 May, saying it was “irresponsible”. For De Jonghe, employees already have the chance to work an 80% week, a measure which will have less impact on the economy.

In terms of public holidays, Belgium also does not fare that well – with 10, like France, compared to 14 in Spain and 15 in Slovakia. Only the Netherlands, Ireland and Denmark have less, with nine.

Written by Liz Newmark