Additional socio-economic and health measures in the fight against covid-19Additional socio-economic and health measures in the fight against covid-19

Today, Saturday, April 11th, the Inner Cabinet, extended to include the presidents or representatives of the ten parties (N-VA, PS, MR, Ecolo, CD&V, Open VLD, sp.a, Groen, cdH, DéFI) met in a virtual meeting. The agenda included several straight-forward decisions about, among other things, powers of attorney:

  • The introduction of a temporary moratorium on company bankruptcies. During this difficult period, any company that is struggling to pay off its debts as a result of covid-19, is protected from pre-judgment attachment and executive attachment, bankruptcy and court-ordered dissolution. In addition, the payment terms that are included in a reorganisation plan, will be extended. And agreements concluded before the entry into force of the royal decree cannot be unilaterally or judicially dissolved.
  • Tax exemption for voluntary overtime (220 hours) in the so-called critical  sectors (see Annex to Ministerial Decree of 23.03.2020) until 30 June 2020.
  • Possibility for the temporarily unemployed to work temporarily in a flexible way and without loss of income in the horticultural and forestry sector. In this way, for a full working day, employees will receive, for example, the normal wage for the job performed, and 75% of the temporary unemployment benefits.
  • An easing of flexible working hours, secondment and temporary work in order to facilitate making permanent employees of other companies available to employers in "critical" industries. Mechanisms to protect workers against social dumping, such as the principle of equal pay for equal work continue to apply, of course.
  • Neutralization of working hours of students in the second half of 2020, so that they do not count towards the calculation of the quota (475 hours per year). Students can therefore reinforce the labour force in critical industries, such as retail or food.
  • The possibility of short successive contracts of fixed duration in critical sectors for a period of three months.
  • Access for asylum seekers to the labour market provided that they have filed their application with the CGRS. They will have the possibility to work for the duration of the procedure, including the duration of any appeal against the decision, which is submitted to the Council for alien law litigation. The goal is to compensate for the lack of workers, in particular seasonal workers.
  • Freezing the degressive nature of unemployment benefits during the crisis period.
  • Confirmation of a bridging right for people who are “typical” self-employed as their secondary occupation in the case of self-employed persons, paying the maximum contribution; "adapted" for certain  self-employed as their secondary occupation (with an income between 6996.89 EUR and 13993.78 EUR) and active  pensioners (income >6996.89 EUR) who are forced to interrupt their activities by  Covid-19.
  • In the area of health, the legislative framework was discussed in order to - as a last resort  - allow health staff who had not yet been assigned to the  crisis, being mobilised. This would be done to help maintain or even increase the existing number of health professionals who are able to  help manage the crisis, in particular in residential care centres.  Whether or not staff will be mobilised depends on the urgency of the situation.  Voluntary recruitment or assistance by staff who are currently economically unemployed,  is preferred.
  • It was also discussed to temporarily delegate the legislator's powers to the  minister for Health (rules and time limits) and to the Administrator-General of  the NIHDI (technical aspects) to ensure access to health care . For example, alternatives to physical consultations can be  developed (as is already the case), marginal adjustments for the reimbursement may  be provided or healthcare providers who no longer meet the conditions  are protected (e.g. consultations by videoconference if the condition was a physical  consultation was). These decisions will be taken in specific consultation with the  insurance companies and service providers within the NIHDI. Measures with consequences  on the budget must be subject to administrative and budgetary control. 

All these measures will be adopted by the Council of Ministers this weekend, before they are sent to the Council of State.

  • Finally, granting a State guarantee was also discussed during the meeting  for certain credits earmarked for combating the economic repercussions  of the coronavirus. The purpose of this Decision is to provide new credits of up to 50  billion for non-financial corporations, including the self-employed, and  legal entities in the non-profit sector. This measure will have retroactive effect (1  April) and will be definitively adopted this weekend by the Council of Ministers to be  published in the Belgian State Gazette.