The new Belgian government prioritises the promotion of gender equality and the fight against discrimination based on gender. One of the first steps in this agenda is the extension of birth leave, which is the leave that fathers or co-parents (it is a gender neutral type of paternity leave) can take at the birth of a child.
Until 31 December 2020, birth leave in Belgium provides for 10 days which can be taken in the 4 months after the birth of the child. The term of the birth leave will be extended to 15 days as of 1 January 2020 and to 20 days as of 1 January 2023. These days can still be taken over a period of 4 months.
The costs for the employers do not increase, as the worker will still receive his wage during the first 3 days of the leave. Afterwards he will receive an allowance of 82% of his (capped) wage. Of course, the employers will have to take into account the legitimate absence of the worker during his/her birth leave.
The extension of birth leave is applicable to the private sector as well as to the public sector (contractual workers + civil servants). A similar extension will be given to self-employed workers for whom a system of birth leave was introduced in 2019.
The objective behind the extension is to promote the idea that fathers should be more involved in the management of the household and in the care for their children, so women can invest more time in their professional careers. The government wants to counter the old gender-role patterns in which women are solely responsible for taking care of the children, because they enjoy maternity leave while the fathers need to work.
Taking birth leave is a right, but it is not mandatory. Therefore, it remains to be seen if many fathers and co-parents will take (all of) these days in practice.
- Private sector employees: Programme Act which modifies art. 30,§2 of the Employment Contract Act. This Programme Act is approved by the Commission of Social affairs of the Federal Parliament but still needs to be approved by the plenary session of the Federal Parliament then needs to be publsished.
- Self-employed: Same Programme Act which modifies art. 18bis, §5 of the Royal Decree no. 38 of 27 July 1967 regarding the Social Status of self-employed persons.
- Public sector (civil servants and contractual workers): Royal Decree (still needs to be published) which modifies the Royal Decree of 19 November 1998.