Petra De Sutter, Belgian Civil Service Minister, has launched a new movement for civil workers called ‘Right to Disconnect’. It will come into effect from 1 February in the same year.
It states that bosses will not call workers after working hours; they only can be contacted during normal working hours. It is exceptional if immediate action is required, which cannot be ignored until the next working day.
However, it further states that employees should not take advantage of the exemption; the move aims to allow ‘ better focus, better health and more sustainable energy levels’.
De Sutter finds it a respectable move and hopes other industries and countries will follow it, and there is a penalty for breaking the rules. There are various ways around this, and contact outside office hours can lead to burn-out and work stress.
France, Italy, Spain and Ireland have all violated the right to disconnect policies. France decided in 1998 after an ambulance driver failed to answer a call from his employer outside of working hours.
But for people working in digital workplaces, it can be hard to establish the lines between the end of work and the beginning of ‘after hours.
Covid-19’s impact on forcing offices into remote work has made this distinction particularly difficult. Many workers have extended their hours and found it hard to disconnect once they ‘log off’ for the day.
There is hope that the decision for Belgian public servants will move further in the country to cover private-sector workers, too. However, unions have some concerns about how feasible that is.
Thierry Bodson, President of the Belgian union FGTB-ABVV, said, “This decision taken for public sector workers is very important and opens up a real right to disconnect for 65,000 federal civil servants”.