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What is new for employers in 2024?

18 December 2023 Employers
Miet Vanhegen

Which major changes in laws and regulations are set to be introduced that you do well take into account  as an employer? What is new on 1 January 2024 and beyond? Below is an overview of the social-legal changes that will impact your work organisation.

 

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Flexi jobs: expansion and reform

The number of sectors  where flexi jobs are allowed is being expanded. As such, from 1 January 2024, the following sectors will potentially be able to call on flexi workers:

  • Education
  • Childcare
  • Buses and coaches
  • Events and sports sector
  • Garages
  • House removals industry
  • Food industry
  • Funeral services
  • Agricultural and horticultural sector

However, the sectors that are now joining are still free to decide to restrict the option of calling on flexi workers to specific sub-activities or posts, or even to decide - subject to  certain conditions - that flexi jobs are not allowed at all. Further sectors may be added in the future.

In addition to the expansion of the number of sectors, changes are being introduced to the amount of pay flexi workers earn. The admission requirements for people to get into flexi jobs are also said to change.
 

Annual holidays

From 2024, leave days can be transferred to the following two years in some cases. For white-collar workers, the holiday pay for these transferred leave days is paid at the end of the initial holiday year. The priority rule when leave days coincide with specific types of suspensions, including illness, is also changing from 1 January 2024. 

Federal Learning Account

From April 2024, employers will be required to enter data on the training courses taken by their employees into an electronic platform called the "Federal Learning Account" (FLA).

The purpose of the "Federal Learning Account" is to enable employees, employers and the authorities to:

  • follow up on individual and sectoral training rights;
  • obtain information on the days and types of training taken by employees, and;
  • to consult information on employees’ remaining training credit.

Long-term illness

'Back to Work' fund

The current obligation for employers to offer outplacement assistance worth 1,800 euros if they terminate the employment contract due to medical force majeure is soon to be replaced by the obligation to pay the same amount into a Back to Work fund to be set up within the RIZIV (National Institute for Sickness and Disability Insurance). Affected workers and other persons who are long-term incapacitated for work will be able to use this fund to purchase services tailored to their needs from specialist and recognised service providers. The entry into force date has yet to be determined, but is likely to be no later than 1 April 2024.

Increase of work resumption bonus

Employers who, from 1 April 2024, hire a worker who has been recognised as disabled as part of a progressive work resumption scheme may receive a work resumption bonus of up to 1,000 euros paid by the mutual health benefit society. This measure is said to continue to apply until 31 March 2025. The amount of this bonus is to be increased to 1,725 euros in 2024 for progressive work resumptions recognised by the advising physician from 1 January 2024 at the earliest, and start from that date at the earliest as well.

Employment rate supplement

In 2022, it was announced that Minister Vandenbroucke wanted to buttress the Back to Work policy by introducing an employment rate supplement. The employment rate supplement is intended to avoid full and early drop-out of workers with health problems. The idea is for these workers, in joint consultation with the employer, the attending physician and possibly the occupational physician, to come up with a work regime that allows them to stay in work for as long as possible. It is the advising physician who gives the ultimate consent based on the medical information while we make sure the loss of earnings is compensated. This compensation would be a maximum of 500 euros.

On indexation and (wage) costs

Increase of GMMMI, structural reduction and tax work bonus from 1 April 2024

In June 2021, the representative employer and worker organisations in the Group of 10 decided to step up the guaranteed average minimum monthly income (GMMMI), or gross minimum wage for short, in stages. The concrete agreement was laid down in Collective Bargaining Agreement No 43/15. The first time the minimum wage went up in application of this agreement was 1 April 2022. This will happen again from 1 April 2024, with an increase of 35.7 euros gross per month. To compensate the added cost to employers, the government is adjusting the wage limits of the structural reduction.

Limit target group reduction for first-time hires from 1 January 2024

From 1 January 2024, the target group reduction for recruiting a first employee is going down from 4,000 euros to 3,100 euros per quarter. The fall in the reduction amount applies where the first employee was taken on before 1 January 2024. The reduction remains unlimited in time. The reduction for a fourth, fifth and sixth employee is to be scrapped from 1 January 2024.

Flemish target group reduction for young/older employees: changes from 1 July 2024

In its September Statement, the Flemish government announced that the target group reduction for older and low-skilled young workers is to be scrapped from from 1 July 2024.  However, transitional measures have been announced.

Target group reduction for collective working time reduction from 1 January 2024

Employers who introduce a collective working time reduction for their full-time employees of at least one full hour under 38 hours per week may be eligible for a target group reduction. Part-time employees whose wages need to be adjusted due to the introduction of the working time reduction are also eligible. From 1 January 2024, part-time employees will only be eligible for the reduction if the normal average weekly working time as specified in their contract is at least 28 hours per week. The new provision applies to working time reductions introduced from 1 November 2023.

Increase of special activation contribution for employees released from the obligation to perform work whilst remaining on full pay from 1 January 2024

In 2018, an activation contribution was introduced for employers who wholly release their employees from the obligation to perform work at the end of their employment contract, as an alternative to the regime of unemployment benefits topped up with a company-paid supplement (SWT) scheme.

In the Work policy document, the minister states that the activation contribution will be raised by 30 percent from 1 January 2024 to support the increase in the employment rate and to make employers accountable for their employment policy.

Electronic sports and culture vouchers

The representative employer and worker organisations in the National Labour Council returned a positive opinion on the possibility of issuing sports and culture vouchers in digital form from 1 January 2024, in addition to the paper version. In addition, expired and unused sports and culture vouchers will be able to be reactivated, as is already the case today for unused meal and eco vouchers.

The legislation is yet to be officially approved and published.

Reintroduction of pension bonus

The Federal government is reintroducing the pension bonus from 1 July 2024 for employees who are retiring from 1 January 2025. The pension bonus is a financial bonus to reward employees who work beyond the early retirement age. The pension bonus is awarded along with the statutory pension.

Mobility

Mobility budget

Since its introduction, the mobility budget legislation already provided for the possibility that a formula could be established by Royal Decree in order to calculate the amount of the mobility budget based on actual costs, as well as a formula allowing the amount of the mobility budget to be calculated based on flat rate values. However, it took until September 2023 for such as Royal Decree to materialise. It is set to enter into force on 1 January 2024 and will represent a significant administrative simplification in practice, resulting in greater legal certainty and predictability for the employee.

Increased amount of tax-exempt bicycle kilometre allowance from 1 January 2024

The Federal government is looking to further encourage the use of bicycles for commuting.

Both on the social security and the tax front, an increase in the amount of the maximum tax-exempt bicycle allowance from 0.27 euros (index-corrected) to 0.35 euros (index-corrected) per kilometre is planned to take effect from 1 January 2024.

What is new is the introduction of a total bicycle allowance on an annual basis. The bicycle allowance will be exempt from social security contributions and tax up to an amount of 2,500 euros (index-corrected amount for the 2024 income year). Any excess would be subject to social security contributions and be taxable as pay.

Adjustment of National Railway Company fares from 1 February 2024

The Belgian National Railway Company’s fares are adjusted on 1 February of every year. Whether this increase will impact your contribution as an employer towards your employees' travel expenses depends on the agreements as apply at your company or in your sector.

Employee representative elections

On election day, between 13 and 26 May 2024, employees are set to elect their representatives to the Health & Safety in the Workplace Committee (CPBW). For larger organisations, with more than 100 employees on average, the representatives to the Works Council are also elected on that day.

Employees who feel called upon to sit on either or both of these bodies can put their name forward to be elected. In January 2024, dismissal protection starts for all employees who will be nominated as candidates for the 2024 employee representative elections. Candidates who are not elected are also protected. The dismissal protection is very far-reaching, with potentially substantial financial consequences for the employer. However, the final candidates will not be announced until March, hence the term ‘occult period’. As employers cannot know which of their employees are protected against dismissal during this time period, dismissals should be avoided during said period.

Regional labour market policy

Flemish apprenticeships

A new form of workplace learning is set to start on 1 January 2024: the so-called apprenticeship job (leerjob). Apprenticeships are designed to allow unqualified non-working young people to obtain a vocational qualification through workplace learning. With these apprenticeships, the Flemish Public Employment Agency (VDAB) aims to address the mismatch that exists on the labour market between unqualified young people on the one hand and qualified jobs on the other. The workplace where the apprentice starts work must pay this young person an allowance of at least 34.50% of the GMMMI.

Extension of regional aid zones in the Flemish Region

Subject to certain conditions, employers qualify for a reduction in charges for the wage costs associated with jobs created as a result of investments in one of the so-called 'regional aid zones'. The validity of the existing regional aid zones in the Flemish Region was recently extended.

Sector-specific news

Mandatory attendance registration for maintenance and/or cleaning activities

From 1 January 2024, the attendance of each natural person (employee, self-employed worker, trainee, seconded employee, contractor, sub-contractor, etc.) at every place of work where maintenance and/or cleaning activities of real properties are carried out must be recorded by means of an electronic attendance registration system.

Extension of measures on seasonal work in agriculture and horticulture

An indefinite extension is to be introduced of the temporary measures for seasonal work which will run until 31 December 2023 for now:

  • The 100 days of seasonal work in the horticultural sector and 50 days of seasonal work in agricultural sector (it is not clear yet whether the 100 half-days measure for dairy cattle is also to be extended indefinitely);
  • The switch-over of seasonal workers’ wages to the wages as apply for the first category of permanent workers;
  • The partial compensation of the supplementary cost due to the pay increase for seasonal workers.
     

Increase of the sectoral minimum wage and a conventional "indexation mechanism" in JIC 336

1. Sectoral minimum wage

A sectoral minimum monthly wage in the amount of 2,049 euros gross is guaranteed for full-time employees, regardless of age or length of service (with the exception of students and those on part-time work/part-time training apprenticeships). The minimum monthly wage includes the salary, benefits that are quantifiable in cash and bonuses granted during the course of the month for normal full-time work.

2. Suppletive wage indexation scheme for the 2023-2024 time frame

For the employees of companies that do not have a wage indexation scheme and whose monthly wage exceeds the industry’s minimum wage, a suppletive indexation system is planned for the 2023-2024 time frame.

The amount of the fixed monthly salary, capped at a full-time monthly salary of 3,500 euros is adjusted on two occasions:

  • 1 January 2024.
  • 01 January 2025.

The adjustment is made in consideration of the actual change in the smoothed out health index using the formula (November + December x-2)/ (November +December x-1).

What qualifies for payment?

Actual increases in pay and/or other benefits granted or to be granted during 2023 and 2024, respectively, may be paid under the wage indexations planned as detailed above.
The benefits are to be charged based on their total cost (gross + employer’s social security contributions) to the wage cost of the wage indexations planned as detailed above.

What does not qualify for payment?

  • Automatic pay increases in application of a collectively determined pay scale at company level;
  • bonuses under Collective Bargaining Agreement No. 90 of the National Labour Council (NAR or Nationale Arbeidsraad);
  • a purchasing power bonus;
  • expense allowances 

Proof of economic unemployment for white-collar workers for companies not liable for VAT

We previously reported on the extension up to and including 30 June 2025 to provide employers with an easier way to apply for temporary unemployment for economic reasons for white-collar workers.  Now, there is to be a new relaxation for businesses not liable for VAT.

In order to claim benefits for your workers under the temporary economic unemployment scheme for white-collar workers, as an employer you need to be able to prove that you are a company in difficulty.  One way to do so is to show that you had a substantial reduction in turnover, production or incoming orders in one of the four quarters preceding the application comparedto the same quarter of one of the two calendar years prior to the application. Up until now, legislation required for applications to be corroborated based on the VAT returns of the quarters concerned, among other things.

However, there are also companies that are not liable for VAT, such as some social profit sector companies. This is now being addressed.

Temporary unemployment supplement

From 1 January 2024, employers may be required to pay an additional top-up supplement when they have applied for temporary unemployment benefits for their employees.This additional supplement is being introduced for all forms of temporary unemployment, except temporary unemployment by reason of force majeure.

For workers whose monthly salary does not exceed 4,000 euros, the supplement is 5 euros for each day covered by temporary unemployment benefit. Employees whose monthly salary exceeds EUR 4,000 are entitled to said supplement as soon as they have have more than 26 days’ temporary unemployment during the same year with the same employer. In that case, the supplement applies to all days starting from day 27 onwards. Days of temporary unemployment due to force majeure do not count towards the first 26 days.
 

The amount of the supplement is linked to the trigger index in place on 1 January 2024. The legal and conventional schemes that already existed continue to apply.

The employer pays this supplement itself unless:

  • the industry enters into a collective bargaining agreement that has been declared to be generally binding which impose this obligation on the Basic Livelihood Support Fund. This collective bargaining agreement is then published in the Belgian Official Gazette.
  • a sectoral or company-wide collective bargaining agreement is in place that grants the employee an amount that is at least equivalent.

A new social law status for artists

Artistic works have received special treatment in social legislation for longer than today.   This existing legal framework has been reformed.

  • An Artwork Committee is to be set up to replace the Artists Committee, which will issue artwork certificates;
  • The small fee scheme will be replaced by the amateur arts fee;
  • Through the Working in the Arts digital platform, the Artwork Commission can be contacted to apply for an artwork certificate and to register performers and patrons who will be able to draw the amateur arts fee.

Employer group

An employer group may be set up taking on the legal form of a not-for-profit organisation (vzw or vereniging zonder winstoogmerk) or a general partnership (VOF or vennootschap onder firma). The VOF will replace the economic interest grouping (EEIG) as a legal form, which is  officially set to be scrapped from 1 January 2024.

Under this partnership, employer groups can make second workers available to their members, after they have first been recognised by the Minister of Labour. 

However, employer groups taking on the form of an economic interest grouping will retain their recognition if they have adopted the legal form of a general partnership (VOF) by 1 January 2024.

Fight against fraud - Additional penalties for not using the ‘white’ cash register system in the hospitality industry

Hospitality businesses must use a registered cash register system ("white cash register") under certain conditions in order to comply with their tax obligations. Additional penalties are to be introduced for not using this registered cash register system (correctly) and doing so knowingly.

Moreover, the data from these "white cash registers" are currently only accessible to the NSSO in order to check the correct allocation of the social security contribution reduction for 5 permanent full-time employees. Minister Vandenbroucke is also looking to extend access to these data to all inspectorates and to allow monitoring for other purposes as well, such as checking the duration and time of employees working hours.

Adjustment of wage rates in line with the Employment Contracts Act

The Employment Contracts Act makes the validity of some clauses dependent on the annual salary of the employee concerned, among other things. These are the training clause, the non-compete clause and the arbitration clause.  These annual wage limits are indexed annually. In 2024, these limits are 41,969 euros and 83,939 euros.

Retaining mobile phone number after employment contract ends

Employees sometimes transfer their mobile phone number to the employer at the time of joining the company as the employer will assume the subscription costs associated with that number. Employees are now given the right to subsequently reclaim the right to use that mobile phone number when their tenure of employment ends. To do so, they will need to enter a written request with the employer within the month after the employment contract comes to an end.

(Please note: at the time of this review, this new piece of legislation was announced and already adopted in a first step in the relevant parliamentary committee, but not yet finally approved by the Chamber of Deputies.)

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Written by Miet Vanhegen

Juridisch adviseur

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