Employers demand points system to combat alcohol in the workplace
Under the system proposed by Unizo after an inquiry into workplace alcohol abuse, employers would have the right to sack anyone caught drinking at work three times
Shock at scale of problem
According to an inquiry by Unizo, one in three companies have been confronted with the problem of alcohol abuse at work at some point in the past five years. Unizo director-general Karel Van Eetvelt concludes that more work is needed on prevention of the problem, but that ultimately measures need to be available to make it possible to sack problem cases.
“At present that’s not possible unless the employee commits a severe professional offence,” he said. The organisation proposes breathalysers in the workplace, and a points system, similar to that used for driving offences in some countries. “If you get caught three times, that would be a reason for summary dismissal,” he said.
In Unizo’s opinion, the problem requires an urgent response. “We were shocked by the results. The figures are better than in the past, but they’re still high, especially when you see that the problem often arises in dangerous sectors such as construction, heavy industry and transport.”
Employers also have their role to play. At present only four out of 10 employers have a policy on the prevention of alcohol and drug abuse. “That has to be increased,” Van Eetvelt said. “But the problem won’t be solved by prevention alone.”
Unions reacted coldly to the proposal. “The legal framework now in place is quite sufficient,” Herman Vonck of the ACV union told De Standaard. Summary dismissal of someone with an office job is more difficult, he admitted, but that is because of the terms of the collective sectoral agreement signed in 2009, signed by among others Unizo, he said. Testing and sanctions lead to inconsistency, he said, while what is required is for each company to establish a policy in agreement with its workforce, which can then be applied consistently and fairly.
The Unizo proposal does not go far enough, according to labour law expert Professor Roger Blanpain, speaking on the Reyers Laat talk show on the VRT. “As far as I am concerned, the principle of safety is the most important. An employer is obliged to ensure the safety of his employees,” he said, which would make mandatory alcohol tests possible, secondary to privacy concerns.
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