New rules for paid holidays


At the end of 2011, the European Commission gave formal notice to Belgium to review its paid holiday system and particularly the rule that did not enable certain workers to take 20 paid holidays during the first year of work. This right to take 20 paid holidays is foreseen by an European Directive.

This rule especially prevented workers who had worked outside the country from taking paid holidays during the first year of work in Belgium, which was particularly restrictive for workers who had worked abroad before joining a Belgium based employer.

European holidays

Belgium consequently modified its holiday scheme and since the end of June 2012, workers can take holidays in their first year of work in Belgium.

To date, the duration of annual holidays was based on a single criterion, which was the number of days worked (and assimilated days) during the previous year. As from 1 April 2012, there is a right to additional holidays, referred to as "European holidays". These additional holidays are holidays that are financed by the worker by means of prefinancing with double holiday pay of the following year.

This new system applies both for manual labourers (also called "blue-collar" workers) and for intellectual employees (also called "white-collar" workers). In this article, we will consider only the system of paid holidays for non-manual workers ('employés').

Conditions to be met to have European holidays

  1. Beginning or resuming an activity in the service of one or several employers.
    By "beginning of an activity" is understood the commencement of an activity after an activity in which the worker was never fully or partially governed by the annual holiday scheme for the private sector: activity as a self-employed worker, activity carried out abroad, activity in the public sector (civil servant).
  2. Having provided services during the calendar year of the beginning or resumption of activities or having a continuous or discontinuous break from work of at least three months, assimilated to provision of services for one or several employers. This period is called the "initiation period".
  3. Having exhausted the legal holidays as set by the regulations on annual holidays (the worker can no longer take any paid holidays due on the basis of his services during the previous year).

Duration of European holidays

As from the last week of the initiation period (= 3 months of work), the employee who meets the conditions (see above), is entitled to take a maximum of six days of holidays in a six-day work week scheme. In a scheme of five days per week, the employee is entitled 6x5/6 = 5 days of additional holidays.

After this initiation period of 3 months, the duration of holidays is determined by two days per month of services carried out for one or several employers if the employee is occupied in a scheme with a six day work week. In a five days a week work scheme, the employee is entitled 5/6 of 2 days of holidays.

Payment of the European holidays

An employee who takes his European holidays receives his normal pay for the holidays taken (simple pécule). There is no double holiday pay (double pécule) applicable to the European holidays.

The holiday pay (simple pécule) pertaining to additional holidays is deducted at the time of payment of next year double holiday pay (double pécule). The double holiday pay (double pécule) is paid at the time the employee takes his main holidays or when holiday pay is due as a result of the departure of the employee.

Entry into force and implications for holidays in 2012

The new regulations came into force on 1 April 2012 and are applicable to holidays taken in 2012.

Concretely, this means that employees can take European holidays as from 25 June 2012, (or in other words as from the last week in June 2012, corresponding to the 3 month initiation period that started on 1 April 2012) for their holidays in 2012.

This is a right to holidays, which means that the employee is not required to take his European holidays. Furthermore, he could take its European holidays only after having exhausted his legal holidays due on the basis of his services during the previous year.


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Please contact Group S - Internation Division

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