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27 May 2020 / news

Belgium plans the easing of lockdown measures

By way of successive Ministerial Decrees the Belgian Federal Government has organized the lockdown of the country since March 2020. Under the lockdown, certain services and sectors are deemed essentials for the functioning of the country.

Belgium plans the easing of lockdown measures

All relevant activities and sectors have been listed in the annex to the Ministerial Decree of March 23, 2020 introducing emergencies measures in the fight against COVID-19. Pursuant to this decree, essential companies can continue to operate under the lockdown but are encouraged to use teleworking where and when possible. They are also expected to ensure the respect of social distancing rules at the workplace as much as possible.

After consultation of a group of experts, the National Security Council has put in place a “lockdown exit strategy” consisting of 4 successive phases, starting May 4, 2020.

Measures such as (i) Limiting contact between people, (ii) Respecting social distancing (1.5m between individuals) and (iii) Good hygiene practices, also called “barrier gestures” (regular hand washing with soap for 20 sec or with hydroalcoholic gel). shall remain in force, regardless of the phase the country is in.

As of May 4, 2020 the covering of mouth and nose will form part of good practice during the easing of lockdown measures. This can be done with a face mask or any alternative protection such as a scarf or a bandana. It is strongly recommended in public places but mandatory in public transport for every citizen older than 12.

Generally, the National Security Council will assess the evolution of the pandemic with a group of experts setting up the lockdown exit strategy. They will closely monitor 6 factors in order to allow the switch from one phase to the other (a step back or postponement is also possible at each stage):

  • Positive evolution of the pandemic (e.g. Contagion rate per contaminated individual, occupation rate of ICU beds and number of new daily contagions, number of daily hospital admissions, etc.),
  • Respect of the social distancing,
  • Citizen wearing masks or alternative covering mouth and nose,
  • Testing and contacts tracing (capacity to build up over the coming weeks),
  • Thorough protocols within companies with respect to the organisation of work; and
  • Clear and transparent communication to the public.

It is worth noting that every shop or business allowed to reopen must take all necessary measures to ensure that social distancing and hygiene rules are respected (e.g. marks on the ground (1.5m between individuals), soap or hydroalcoholic gel are at disposal, shifts of teams, etc.).

Below you will find a table describing the 4 phases of the lockdown exit strategy. Currently only phase 1 (a+b) and phase 2 have been confirmed. As previously mentioned, the National Security Council meets with the group of experts on a regular basis. Subsequently new announcements with respect to the easing of lockdown measures are to be expected. All input for phase 3 and onwards are still putative at this stage and require an official confirmation.

General measures with respect to businesses and individuals

 

Phase 1a

(confirmed)

Phase 1b

(confirmed)

Phase 2

(confirmed)

Phase 3

(To be announced)

Entry into force

May 4 – May 10, 2020

May 11 – May 17 2020

May 18 – June 7, 2020

June 8, 2020

(at the earliest)

Businesses

(Opened)

All shops and retail outlets are closed, except for:

-  Food shops, including night shops (open until 10.00pm);

-  Pet food shops;

-  Pharmacies;

-  Newsagents (press shops);

-  Petrol stations and fuel suppliers;

-  Telecoms shops excluding shops that only sell accessories, but only for emergencies, whereby they can only admit one customer at a time, by appointment;

-  Shops for medical aids, but only for emergencies, whereby they can only admit one customer at a time, by appointment;

-  Garden centres and tree nurseries that primarily sell plants and/or trees;

-  DIY stores with a general assortment which primarily sell construction tools and/or building materials;

-  Wholesalers intended for professionals, but only for the benefit of the latter;

-  Specialised retail outlets selling clothing fabrics;

-  Specialised retailers selling knitting yarns, handicrafts and haberdashery.

 

Generally shops and businesses can open only if:

-  Necessary measures have been put in place to guarantee a 1.5m space between clients; and

-  maximum 1 client / 10m² for maximum 30min.

As of May 11, all shops and retails can reopen at the same time, under strict conditions.

-  It is strongly recommended that customers wear a face mask (inside the shops);

-  Employers must ensure safe working conditions for their employees;

-  Necessary measures have been put in place to guarantee a 1.5m space between clients; and

-   maximum 1 client / 10m² for maximum 30min.

Idem

+

Professions relying on physical contact (hairdressers, beauticians, etc.) can resume their activities, subject to conditions.

They must work by appointment; everybody must wear a face mask (staff & customers) and customers must respect social distancing measures

 

 

The possibility of gradually reopening restaurants and, in a later stage, also cafes, bars and the like, all under strict conditions will be considered.

 

 

Businesses

(Closed)

All other stores (clothing stores, stationery stores, perfume stores, drugstores, furniture stores, toy stores, printers, carwashes, baby stores, etc.) are closed but are encouraged to continue their activities by phone or online, if they can guarantee home deliveries. For these shops, delivery and collection of orders within the shop itself is not permitted. Tobacconists and electronic cigarette shops remain closed.

Activities relying on physical contact (e.g. hairdressers, beauticians) will continue to remain closed in this phase.

 

Hotels, cafes, bars, restaurants and festivity halls, recreational, cultural and tourist sites will remain closed.

Hotels, cafes, bars, restaurants and festivity halls, will remain closed.

TBC

Remote working

Teleworking is encouraged for all companies and services, whatever their size, for all functions for which it is possible to organize.

 

For companies in the essential sectors and where teleworking from home is not possible, these companies are obliged to make maximum effort to observe social distancing measures. The complete list of these crucial sectors and essential services has been compiled and annexed to the Ministerial Decree of March 23, 2020.

Idem

Idem 

TBC

Education

Schools are closed and e-learning is encouraged (each community is responsible for the guidelines).

Idem

Classes will gradually resume as from 18 May. Not all students will go back to school immediately. Priority may be given to pivotal years (e.g. learning how to read in primary schools, orientations years in secondary schools, etc.)

 

Each community will be responsible for executing this decision in its own territory, in consultation with the education sector.

TBC

Travel (within Belgium), Sport and Cultural Activities restrictions

General stay at home order, only the following journeys are allowed:

 

-  Professional travel (including commuting);

-  Absolutely necessary travel (doctor’s visit, food purchases, travel to the post office, bank, pharmacy, petrol station or assistance to persons in need, parents travelling to their children’s crèche, all travel in the context of a legal obligation, etc.);

-  Walks and physical activities (including motorbike rides) that do not involve physical contact provided that they:

o are carried out alone;

o are carried out in the company of persons living under the same roof, which also includes residential groups and their supervisors from youth facilities staying under the same roof;

o and/or in the company of a maximum of two other persons, who are always the same two persons, at a distance of 1.5m of each other.

These activities are permitted for the time necessary to do them. Once these activities are completed, it is compulsory to return home. It is still prohibited to sit down in parks. Tolerance must be shown towards pregnant women and the elderly. This measure does not have to be strictly applied either to people with reduced mobility or mental disabilities.

Picnicking and sunbathing are also still prohibited in parks.

Idem

+

As from May 10, every household may receive a maximum of four people - always the same - at home. To limit the number of contacts and to prevent the spread of the virus, visitors can only meet with one family. Though this allow an extension of social contacts, safety measures must be respected (safe distance, stay outside as much as possible, etc.)

 

A maximum of 30 individuals may attend funerals and wedding ceremonies. Reception after the ceremony are not allowed. 

Museums, zoo and cultural sights (e.g. castles, historic buildings, etc.) can be reopened provided they put in place a remote ticketing system (online or by telephone) and limit the number of entrances. A circulation plan must be drawn-up and cafeterias, restaurants and attractions stay closed. 

Outdoor team sports are allowed, but only in a club context (under supervision of a coach) and groups may not exceed 20 persons and sports clubs have taken all possible measures guarantee the safety of the sportsmen and sportswomen.

The future of all sports competitions will be clarified in the short term, the National Security Council has already announced that sport competitions are suspended until at least July 31.

Playgrounds can be reopened as of May 27 for children under 12 and with a maximum of 20 individuals at the same time.

Youth summer camps and activities can resume as of July 1st provided the groups are organized in “bubbles” of maximum 50 individuals.

 

Day trips albeit within Belgium could be allowed.

 

Various summer activities such as youth camps, internships, tourist attractions also small-scale open-air events will be considered.

 

However, major events (e.g. music festivals) will remain prohibited until August 31.

Travel restrictions (cross-border)

The general principle is that any non-essential travel (inbound or outbound) is prohibited. The following journeys are currently being presumed as essential reasons to travel abroad:

 

-  Journeys abroad in the context of professional activities, including commuting;

-  Journeys to continue medical care;

-  Journeys to provide assistance or care to an elderly person, minor, disabled or vulnerable person;

-  Journeys to take care of animals;

-  Journeys in the context of co-parenting;

-  Journeys to pick up any person with Belgian nationality, with or without their main residence in Belgium, long-term residents in Belgium and persons with legal residence in Belgium, from abroad and bring them back to Belgium;

-  Journeys to take family members abroad so they can carry out their activities for essential reasons;

-  Journeys of Belgian nationals to their main residence abroad.

-  Journeys to a partner who does not live under the same roof;

-  Journeys in the context of the execution of a deed (if necessary and cannot be done digitally);

-  Journeys in the context of funerals / cremations;

-  Journeys in the context of civil / religious marriages;

-  Journeys of learners, students and interns, who go to school in a neighbouring country in the context of their education.

-  Journeys to have urgent repairs carried out in the context of vehicle safety. (See the conditions under the chapter Transport and journeys). Journeys to a second residence abroad are excluded in this regard.

Idem

Idem

Travelling abroad or a multi-day trip within Belgium is likely to be allowed. There is no certainty as this measure is yet to be considered.

Return to Belgium

The general principle is that any Belgian nationals, with or without a main residence in Belgium, long-term residents in Belgium and persons with legal residence in Belgium, may return to Belgium subject to two conditions. The two conditions are that:

 

-  The person must remain in self-isolation at home for 14 days; and

-  The person is prohibited from working outdoors for 14 days (even if they are employed in an essential sector), although teleworking is still permitted.

 

These two conditions apply to returning persons and cover all possible modes of transport used (air, land and sea) for their return.

 

In the case of return via a domestic or an airport abroad, these two conditions also apply to the person who is going to pick up the returning person(s), but not to the rest of the family who live under the same roof. The person picking up the returning person should preferably be a family member, but if the family members are employed in an essential sector, it is not recommended that they pick up the returning person.

 

These two conditions do not apply to frontier workers, drivers employed by professional transport companies and persons who have made an essential journey abroad, with the exception of persons who have gone to pick up returning persons from an airport abroad (see previous paragraph).

Idem

Idem

TBC

Sanctions

Non-compliant behaviours can result in either an incarceration time ranging from 8 days up to 3 months and a fine ranging from €26 up to €500, OR only one of these two sanctions.

 

Non-compliant companies can be ordered to shut down if they cannot implement health and safety measures for their employees.

Idem

Idem

TBC

Return to work guidance

A Generic Guide was drawn up by the social partners of the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work, the Policy Unit of the Minister for Employment and experts from the Ministry of Employment. This Guide (EN) aims to give employers practical guidelines on how to organize the return to the workplace.

The Guide advises paying special attention to employees in a vulnerable position (because of their own health situation or that of their family members) and to employees who have continued to come to the workplace, even in these difficult circumstances. It may be summarized as follows:

Personal hygiene and social distancing are key: employers should ensure the necessary materials are available for employees to wash their hands (hand soap, paper towels, hydroalcoholic gels, disposable tissues …) as well as the necessary reminders to employees of this obligation. Employers should organize the work in such a way that the 1.5 meter distance rule may be observed as much as possible.

Organizational measures should be taken to maximize social distancing, such as:

  • Making sure that employees arrive and leave at different times (e.g. by reorganizing the start and end time of shifts), that lunch breaks are spread, etc.
  • Use of lifts should be avoided.
  • Time registration tools involving physical touch may be a contamination risk.
  • If doors should not be closed for safety reasons (especially fire doors), keep them open to avoid touching.

Where the 1.5 meter distance is threatened, collective protection measures (protective shields, partitions, markings on the floor) take priority over the provision of personal protection measures (gloves, masks, protective clothing).

Special attention should be given to the cleaning of the building and to ventilation.

On top of that, we identify a number of interesting points:

  • 10-12: examples of posters that can be hung out in the company
  • 16: confirmation that - at this stage – face masks are not mandatory at the workplace
  • 19: recommended procedure for workers who fall ill
  • 21-29: organization of changing rooms, sanitary facilities, cafeteria and co-working areas
  • 35-37: How can we welcome third parties and the self-employed into the company?

The Generic Guide applies to all industries commonly. Specific guides may be issued per sector. Other guides will likely gradually be published by specific business sectors. Please note that although this document is informative and non-binding, it is very likely that the social inspectors will check during their inspections that the necessary measures have been taken using this document as a benchmark.

On 7 May 2020, a modified version was made available with some adaptions. A number of images have been changed and additions have been inserted in the following sections:

  • For general measures, under 'make maximum use of consultation opportunities': ask the advice of the consultation bodies for the restart
  • For hand hygiene: after washing, dry your hands with a paper towel and use this towel to close the faucet or close the faucet with your elbow
  • For transport: new information on hygiene when using bikes or scooters
  • For sanitary facilities: specific measures for showers in the company
  • For the cleaning of the workplace/work equipment: attention for possible contamination in pipes

Additional information on sector guides, a checklist and a print-friendly poster.

Governmental measures to ensure a safe organization of work

The following are measures which have recently been taken and which apply specifically to the so-called critical sectors. This overview takes into account the recent Ministerial Decree n°14 of April 27, 2020 ensuring the proper organization of work in critical sectors.

Voluntary overtime

The Decree increases the number of voluntary overtime hours to 220 hours (i.e. 120 additional voluntary overtime hours).

There will be an exemption from the tax for these overtime hours on condition that it concerns:

  • overtime worked by an employee on a voluntary basis;
  • a maximum of 220 overtime hours per year; and
  • overtime performed for the period from 1 April 2020 to 30 June 2020.

Short successive agreements

The Decree allows successive fixed-term employment contracts to be concluded for a period of 3 months in the vital sectors, without this leading to the creation of an employment contract of indefinite duration. This allows employers in the critical sectors to recruit additional staff in a very flexible manner. Employees who are currently temporarily unemployed can, for their part, start working in these sectors in a flexible manner.

Successive employment contracts of short duration may be entered into indefinitely on condition that it concerns:

  • fixed-term employment contracts of at least 7 days; and
  • employment contracts concluded for a period of 3 months.

Students

In order to allow students to work in this crisis situation, the government has decided not to count the hours worked by a student in the second quarter of 2020 when applying the usual quota of 475 hours per year.

Social elections

Although the law has not yet been published, it has been confirmed that the social elections will be postponed.

Important elements to be taken into account:

  • the date of the elections is not yet known. It will be published at a later date by Royal Decree. The elections are expected to take place in November 2020. 
  • even if the lists of candidates have been submitted, the trade unions have the possibility to replace the candidates on the lists with new candidates.

If the elections take place in November 2020, a new occult period (which creates a protection against dismissal for candidate-employees) will apply from mid-August (x) until the beginning of November 2020 (x+76).

Posting of workers

During the second quarter of 2020 (April-May-June), employers from any sector will be able to post their permanent employees to employers in the critical sectors in a flexible manner. There is no obligation to obtain prior consent from the trade union delegation nor from the labour inspectorate.

The posting is possible under the condition that:

  • the employee was already permanently employed before 10 April 2020;
  • the conditions must be laid down in advance in a signed written document; and
  • principle of equal pay for equal work is guaranteed.

Please note that the employer in the critical sector becomes jointly and severally liable for the payment of the social security contributions, salary, allowances and benefits for the employees concerned.

Temporary employment in the vital sectors

Employees who are temporary unemployed, unemployed with company allowance (SWT/RCC) and employees on time credit, career break or thematic leave can temporarily work for another employer in a vital sector. When doing so, these employees can retain 75% of their (unemployment) allowances. The temporary employment must take place in the period from 1 April 2020 to 31 May 2020 inclusive.

Employers who are considered belonging to vital sectors pertain to:

  • Joint Committee for Agriculture (JC 144);
  • Joint Committee on Horticulture (JC 145);
  • Joint Committee on Forestry (JC 146).


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