Overtime is a tricky problem (contributions, premiums, making up overtime). The time has come to review the regulation and the exceptions and mention an often little-known tax reduction to reduce the cost of overtime.
Overtime in Belgian law
In Belgium, the limits on working hours may be exceeded in some cases, but the period of work may never be more than 50 hours a week. The law defines 'overtime', which is very strictly regulated. In fact, overtime has to be made up in the form of time off in lieu, and gives rise to payment of a bonus of an amount at least 50% more than ordinary pay.
Two rules are unavoidable:
- Overtime must be made up within the current calendar quarter.
- Employees are not allowed to work more than 65 hours' overtime during a reference period.
+20%, 50% or 100%?
The statutory bonus is also defined in law. The rates applicable are as follows:
- 20% for overtime in the construction sector;
- 50% for overtime worked Monday to Saturday;
- 100% for overtime worked on Sundays or public holidays.
The scenario of night work
Any work carried out between 8pm and 6am is considered by law as night work. In principle, this night work is not authorised, except for certain professions such as the press, the hotel industry, the catering industry (including bakeries), pharmacies and cultural venues (cinema, theatre, shows). Workers working at night are entitled to a night-time bonus, the amount and terms of which are fixed by a collective work agreement.
The ceiling has been revised upwards (in some cases)
You may not be aware of this, but there is a reduction on the first 130 hours of overtime worked in most sectors. For most sectors, including the construction and comparable sectors, the limit of 130 hours has however been revised upwards, i.e. 180 hours, but on one condition: on a work site, the system for recording attendance must be effectively used. Some sectors go even further: catering (Horeca) benefits, for example, from a capital of 360 overtime hours.
What is the advantage? For 20 overtime hours, the discount is around 300 euros. The tax reduction brings this cost down to just under 200 euros. Automatically, costs fall and taxation is reduced. Do the maths. The employer is saving nearly 35% in salary costs here. For their part, employees receive a bonus which is 50% higher. In other words, bosses and employees have everything to gain.
3 smart fringe benefits
A pension scheme, hospitalisation insurance and devices remain fixed items within the remuneration package. A creative approach means that the cost of these is manageable.
Company cars, group insurance, various types of cheques, an internet connection at home, working part-time or even childcare through the employer – each of these is an example of fringe benefits. Although the social and tax regulations for each benefit type are different, they do have one common characteristic: employees love them. Let's look at three of the most popular benefits in more detail:
Devices – the ideal fringe benefit?
Hip, handy and sought after: smartphones, laptops or tablets have everything needed to be a dream fringe benefit. Employees are delighted and they are a benefit which employers can perfectly justify. Communication plays a key role in any company. However, the challenge is ensuring that costs are kept at a reasonable level. How should you approach this?
- Set your employees a maximum amount for their mobile phone usage. Whoever exceeds the limit, pays the difference. A third of companies offering staff a mobile phone employ such an arrangement. On average, the employer ends up paying €25 to €50 per month, but for more senior roles, this amount will often be significantly higher.
Mobile phone operators have also developed special packages in order to process the administration relating to split-bill arrangements. For any amounts below the limit, they send the bill directly to the employer. The employee is billed directly for any extra usage.
- Ask your employee to pay back a fixed amount each month by way of a salary deduction. This way, you as an employer can recover a part of the costs and also restrict the taxable benefit as far as your employee is concerned.
The "normal" taxable benefit amounts to €12.50 per month for a mobile phone or a smartphone, €15 per month for a laptop or tablet and €5 per month for mobile internet or broadband internet at the employee's home. If the employee completely repays that benefit, then they are no longer liable for taxes on the personal privilege resulting from the benefit.
Saving for later – the supplementary pension scheme
According to a survey by SD Worx, 81% of Belgian employers are contributing to a supplementary pension for their employees, who are increasingly coming to greatly value this benefit. This is not only due to lenient tax treatment, but also due to the growing focus on the pension issue. If you, as an employer, also wish to do this, then you have a number of different possibilities.
- Group insurance or pension scheme
With a collective pension scheme, you build up, with fixed, monthly payments, supplementary pension capital for your employees. Sector or company CLAs increasingly require such a scheme to be set up, with or without being "social" in nature. Despite this, premiums for non-statutory pension accrual usually remain relatively modest.
If you want to do something extra for your staff's pensions, then a supplementary pension scheme also offers fiscally attractive opportunities for paying out a classic bonus or end-of-year premium. Tax and social deductions on pension payments are minimal, whereas around half of a normal bonus will disappear.
- Personal pension scheme benefits
You also have the possibility of further optimising the pension scheme of your most valuable employees – think of managers or self-employed company executives for instance – on an individual basis. This can be done thorough so-called personal pension scheme benefits. Very strict rules apply to this, including respecting the 80% rule. This states that the employer contribution for this non-statutory pension, together with the statutory pension, may be no higher than 80% of the employee's last normal annual gross salary.
Furthermore, for your wage-earning employees, a ceiling of €2,340 (the amount for 2016) is also in force, per employee and per year. Finally, take account of the fact that personal pension scheme benefits cannot be created in the 36 months preceding (early) retirement.
Hospitalisation insurance: affordable care
Nowadays, hospitalisation insurance is almost indispensable. Employees also especially value this particular benefit. Three points to consider:
- As an employer you are obliged to inform your employees that they are entitled to personally continue the collective policy if they leave the company. With individual continuation in later life, however, the premium can be very expensive. In order to avoid the premium for a future transition already being too high, your employees can take out a waiting policy in order to pre-finance their future premium. You are also obliged to inform affiliates of this. With such a waiting policy, upon later transition, your employees pay a premium based on their initial affiliation age.
- In agreement with your insurer, you confirm whether your employees are or are not obliged to affiliate themselves to the collective hospitalisation scheme. Ensure that you establish hospitalisation insurance as a voluntary fringe benefit that your employees may replace with another optional benefit of their choosing. If insufficient employees are affiliated to the collective policy, the premium for each employee may increase.
- The premium which you as an employer pay for a collective hospitalisation insurance scheme is a benefit which is exempt from tax. For you as an employer, however, these costs are not tax deductible.
Performance-related salary bonuses increasingly popular
CLA 90 performance-related bonus schemes are on the increase. Last year, 15% of administrative workers and 12% of manual workers received this type of bonus. As an employer, you could effectively combine such a bonus scheme with just about any objective and clearly measurable goal which you would like to see achieved within your company.
Examples are profit increase, cost reduction, a reduction in average delivery time, reducing the number of accidents at work or sick days, etc.
It is important to note that collective goals must be the focus here and that all employees (or a clearly defined group) must be involved in the scheme.
The advantages of a bonus scheme
Paying out a little extra through such a bonus scheme has some important advantages. Let's cover the main ones:
- If the maximum amount is respected – €3,219 per employee in 2016 – at the social level, the paid-out bonus is only subject to the 33% special employer contribution and a 13.07% employee deduction. The tax burden is also minimal.
For example: An "ordinary" bonus that generates €1,000 net for the employee, costs the employer €2,695.90. For a performance-related bonus, the cost falls to €1,503.80.
- For the employer, the bonus is fully tax-deductible as an operating cost.
- The salary bonus does not count in the calculation of holiday pay and the end of year premium.
- A performance bonus can never become an acquired right. It is given once and you are never obliged to repeat it the following year.
- Performance-related salary bonuses fall outside the government's ruling. This way, it's perfectly legal for you to provide your employees with a little extra.
A flexible salary as an alternative
A new trend which has grown in response to economy measures is "flexible rewards". This means that employees can adapt their remuneration package to suit their personal needs.
Due to the crisis and the current tendency to freeze salaries, increases are often difficult to implement. However, through making salaries more flexible you can improve employee satisfaction. The starting point of a flexible reward scheme is simple: a summary is made of each employee's total salary package and the budget which corresponds to this. On the basis of this, certain salary components can be exchanged for other benefits from a "shop".
So far, this idea has seen little application in the market, mainly because it is difficult to organise in a fully statutory way. Human Resources company SD Worx has succeeded in creating a legally supported "cafeteria scheme", which offers employees the possibility of choosing independently from a number of fringe benefits.
"Fixed salary flexibility is not always simple, since pay scales are often linked to sector or company CLAs," explains SD Worx's Kathelijne Verboomen. "But variable bonuses and fringe benefits normally lend themselves to it very well. Within a flexible reward system, the budget for a salary bonus can, for instance, be allocated to an extra car or car wash budget, non-statutory holiday days, a laptop, tablet or smartphone, an electric bike, a babysitting service for sick children, etc. Non-statutory holiday days are particularly fashionable at the moment.
On the other hand, we are also seeing that employees who don't wish to have a car, prefer to reduce their car budget in return for other benefits, or cash. We've noticed this following the replacement of a company car or a promotion. Employees who are promoted – and therefore enter into a higher car category – but are still satisfied with the car they have can use the extra budget in another way."
Capital Markets Union: It’s Not About Us, It’s About You
How to harmonize capital markets and regulation across Europe? Petra De Deyne, Regulatory Affairs Manager for Global Markets at BNP Paribas, presents the new initiative of the European Commission to build a single market for all 28 Member States of the Union.
After the crisis of 2007-2008, financial stability was the key priority for the European Commission. In order to restore that stability, the resilience of banks needed to be strengthened and systemic risk in the markets needed to be contained, which had Brussels produce that famous “tsunami” of regulation. Today, most of the work to make banks and markets stable again is done and the respective legislation has been or will soon be implemented.
Growth as a priority
The next item on the European Commission’s to-do list is now to create growth. Therefore, corporates need to grow their businesses, invest and expand. Historically, corporates have been very much dependent on bank lending if they want to expand. However, on the back of capital and liquidity requirements imposed by bank regulation, some banks have found it more difficult to fulfil their role of traditional lender. Seeing their bank funding channels drying up, larger corporates turned to capital markets, but did not always meet favourable borrowing conditions and interested investors. For some of the smaller corporates, getting funding had become as good as impossible. A survey done by the ECB and the European Commission in 2014 on the access to finance of enterprises (SAFE) showed that 35% of SMEs did not get the full financing they asked their banks for in 2013.
Looking at the US, we notice that corporates get about three quarters of their funding directly from the capital markets, and rely only to a small extent on bank lending. In Europe the situation is the other way round. So Europe wondered if they could create a funding landscape that would resemble more the US situation. That would mean that those in need of financing would meet directly with those that have money to invest. It would reduce the dependency of the real economy on banks, which would again contribute to financial stability. However, what is needed in that case is a harmonized, well integrated capital market in Europe. And this is where comes in the initiative of the European Commission: build a Capital Markets Union.
So in short, this is what CMU is about: it is a plan to create a single market for all 28 Member States of the European Union, where, on the one hand, funding choices for corporates will be diversified beyond bank lending and where, on the other hand, investment opportunities and the investor base will be broadened.
So what’s the plan?
“The Plan”, which the European Commission published in October 2015, sets 4 clear objectives:
- Support job creation and growth
- Connect financing effectively to investment projects across the EU
- Make the financial system more stable
- Deepen financial integration and increase competition
“The Plan” also defines 5 priority areas for action, with over 30 different initiatives for reviews, assessments, reports, initiatives and legislative proposals, all to be taken between now and sometime in 2018.
The first priority is to provide more funding choices for Europe’s corporates and SMEs. Here we will see initiatives to support venture capital and innovative forms of financing, such as crowdfunding. The EU is also thinking about ways to provide necessary data on SMEs to investors, so that they can make well informed investment decisions.
Second, long term investment has to be promoted. An initiative here is to make sure that capital requirements for insurers are reviewed so that they see their investment needs more efficiently met. Measures will also be taken to promote investment in infrastructure projects.
Third, the range of investment choices both for retail and institutional investors has to broaden. In this area, we will see, amongst others, incentives to promote pensions savings and private placements.
The fourth priority is to enhance the capacity of the banks to step up lending. This may sound contradictory, as the idea of the CMU is to move away from traditional lending. However, for a lot of SMEs, banks will still remain the prime source of financing. So Europe wants to make sure that banks can offload more assets from their balance sheet so that they have extra space to lend.
And lastly, the EU wants to dismantle barriers that would hamper cross-border investment across the Member States. This is quite an ambitious area, where certain tax issues will be tackled, and where we will see a certain harmonization as far as national insolvency laws and securities laws are concerned.
Simultaneously with the publication of “The Plan”, the European Commission issued a couple of legislative proposals and 3 consultations, as a matter of launching the short term actions right away and getting the train out of the station.
The European Commission takes immediate action in the field of securitization. This may seem quite controversial as some will still consider this as the root of all evil. However, it is a critical tool to finance the economy and it sits high on the Commission’s agenda. In order to kick start the securitizations market, the EU has come up with a legislative proposal, the purpose of which is twofold:
- First, it aims at reinstalling confidence. Therefore, a quality label is introduced: “Simple, Transparent and Standardized” securitizations. That means that any “STS” securitisation will comply with over 20 different standards, thus helping investors to better understand these products and ensuring quality. Second, it incentivizes banks to restart the activity again by giving these STS securitizations a better capital treatment, compared to other forms of securitisation.
- Next to that, the EU has issued a proposal to adjust Solvency II rules for insurers, so that they would have to deploy less capital when investing in long term infrastructure projects or in European Long Term Investment Funds (ELTIFs).
Also note that the European Commission is looking into covered bonds. Currently there are 26 different covered bond frameworks in the EU, an area which could possibly benefit from a certain level of harmonization. While the idea is not to create a single framework for Europe, the Commission would look to promote best practices, step up transparency and remove barriers that would hamper cross-border investments. We also saw a consultation venture capital and a call for evidence on the cumulative impact of financial legislation.
In the medium term, a review of the Prospectus Directive is on the cards. This is a logical move, given that the EU would like to attract many more corporates directly onto the capital markets to issue debt. Making prospectuses cheaper and less burdensome for smaller issuers on the one hand and more user friendly for investors on the other hand, would be a welcome help in that respect.
Another initiative is a Green Paper (this is a first, general exchange of views between the EC and the industry to explore a certain topic) on Retail Financial Services. Here he European Commission is exploring ways to enhance competition and make sure that consumers have access to a broader range of services in order to get the best deal around, when it comes to mortgages, savings products, insurance, banks accounts etc.
In the long term, count 2017/2018, we can expect further steps to support SME growth markets and private placements, along with plans for a pan-European Pension Fund. As already mentioned earlier, matters regarding withholding tax and insolvency law will get attention as well.
Benefits for companies
All in all, CMU certainly has a fully packed and ambitious agenda. Now what’s in it for companies, really? Potentially a lot. However, we appreciate that the road to a real CMU may be a far longer one. 2019 seems awfully close for some of the changes to happen. Rebalancing financial intermediation for example will most probably be a gradual, organic process that will go hand in hand with political interests, FinTech developments etc., rather than a major shift on a particular point in time.
Also, it will need a change in mind-set and behaviour by all stakeholders involved. The effects of a CMU may be more pronounced for the corporate sectors of certain countries with relatively small capital markets. For these countries, some of the initiatives could be particularly beneficial. Their domestic capital markets may currently not be able to cater for their large corporates, pushing them away to international markets. CMU could bring them back home and expand their markets.
The benefits of CMU will be different for the different types of companies:
- Start-ups will get special attention, as their innovation and entrepreneurial spirit are key to Europe’s growth potential. At this moment start-ups can turn to crowdfunding, but this is only developing and there is already some investment by business angels. However, these funding channels remain small and local and will not always provide the necessary funding at critical moments in their expansion. The initiatives to step up venture capital for example may be particular beneficial in that respect.
- Small companies that are struggling to get bank funding, especially in those countries that have been hit the hardest by the crisis, may unlock more funding via securitization. SMEs in particular could be positively impacted, as the intended side effect would be that securitisation allows banks to step up the lending capacity, knowing that bank lending for this type of corporates may remain a very important source of funding. Next to that, the European Commission also wants to work closely together with the SME growth markets, a new market sub-category created under MiFID II to facilitate access to capital for SMEs, to ensure that the regulatory environment for these markets delivers the expected results.
- Medium and large-sized companies, which may already have access to capital markets, should also feel the effects as CMU will support investors who wish to place larger amounts of capital in the market. The initiative to promote private placements, building on successful experiences such as the one in Germany and through supporting market-led initiatives such as the one by ICMA on the use of standardized documentation could be quite helpful. Tackling tax issues could come in helpful as well.
What is important too is that the European Commission is also planning to review the functioning of the European corporate bond market and to see how market liquidity can be improved. A well-functioning secondary market will be crucial for the success of the primary debt markets.
So all in all, the Capital Markets Union is an ambitious, yet challenging plan of the European Commission. Ambitious because it intends to reengineer Europe’s traditional funding channels. Challenging because of the wide range of issues that need to be tackled to get there and the tight deadline. The outcome should be that corporates meet with investors in an efficient market place, thus broadening the scope of options for both parties to contribute to economic growth.
(Source: Focus Magazine CIB)