Belgian Constitutional Court Holds That Differences between Blue and White Collar Employees Should Be Abolished

In a preliminary ruling that came down on 7 July 2011 concerning a case that had been brought before the Labour Court of Brussels (Arbeidsrechtbank / Tribunal du travail), the Belgian Constitutional Court ordered Belgian Parliament to abolish by July 2013 the difference in treatment between white collar and blue collar employees.

In its ruling, the Constitutional Court considered two manifestations of the difference in treatment between these categories of employees to be unconstitutional, namely the notice period, which is longer for white collar employees, and the first unpaid day of sick leave in the blue collar employee's regime.

When a blue collar employee is not able to work due to illness, the first day of sick leave remains unpaid, unless the sick leave exceeds 14 days. In contrast, white collar employees are entitled to one month of guaranteed salary, paid at 100% by the employer, regardless of the length of their sick leave.

The Constitutional Court did not annul with immediate effect the legislative provisions accounting for the difference in treatment. Instead, it gave Belgian Parliament until 8 July 2013 to take measures to remove the current differences thought to be unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court sought to ascertain that "the [federal] legislator has at its disposal a sufficient amount of time to complete the harmonisation of the regimes governing blue collar and white collar employees."

Already in a 1993 judgment, the Constitutional Court had considered the specific differences between white collar and blue collar employees to be unjustified. However, at the time the Court did not indicate that these differences had to be abolished within a specific time period.

On 12 April 2011, a new law was adopted which provides for a first step in a gradual harmonisation of the rules governing blue collar and white collar employees (See, Van Bael & Bellis on Belgian Business Law, Volume 2011, No. 4, p. 12). The judgment of the Constitutional Court has shown that these measures will not suffice.

The judgment of the Constitutional Court can be found at http://www.const-court.be/