Belgian civil servants granted ‘right to disconnect’ after working hours

By on 04/02/2022 | Updated on 04/02/2022
Rue de la Loi in Brussels, which contains a number Belgian government buildings. Photo Trougnouf (Benoit Brummer) Wikipedia

Belgian civil servants have gained the right not to reply to calls or emails from their employers outside of normal working hours.

The new law granting around 65,000 civil servants the ‘right to disconnect’ came into effect on 1 February. Its aim is to prevent “excessive work stress and burnout” at work, according to a memo disseminated by Petra De Sutter, minister of the civil service.

“The computer stays on you keep reading the e-mails you receive on your smartphone… To better protect people against this, we now give them the legal right to disconnect,” she said.

De Sutter also stated that the law will mean a federal employee “shall not be disadvantaged if he [or she] does not answer the phone or read work-related messages outside normal working hours”. However, an employer may still be authorised to contact an employee “in the event of exceptional and unforeseen circumstances requiring action that cannot wait until the next working period”.

The law would give civil servants the ability to enjoy “better focus, better recuperation and a more sustainable energy level” at work, she added/

Clarity needed going forward

However, concerns about how the law will work have been raised by Belgium’s public sector union ACV Public Services, however, which demanded a sharper definition of the “exceptional cases” in which managers will have authorisation to contact civil servants after working hours.

Johan Lippens, a co-ordinator at ACV, said: “What is exceptional? We would have preferred to see that more clearly defined. Now it depends on what your manager understands by this, which will undoubtedly lead to discussion.”

Belgium’s socialist government union, ACOD, also responded to the new law meanwhile. As reported by Flemish newspaper De Morgen, Tony Six, the union’s federal secretary, said: “In these hectic times, that right to disconnect is absolutely necessary. We also hope that it can inspire other companies and sectors to follow the same path.”

In a recent interview with The Brussels Times, De Sutter clarified the steps taken by the Belgian government leading up to the decision to introduce the right to disconnect law.

“We aim to reach an average of two teleworking days per civil servant per week. However, teleworking goes hand-in-hand with attention to well-being. That’s why we have anchored the right to disconnect in the legislation,” she said.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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