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Newsletter: February 2, 2024

Welcome to the latest edition of our newsletter! Our goal is to ensure that you are well informed and equipped with the latest information.

Read on to stay ahead, stay compliant, and set the course for success.

Netherlands: 5 Key Changes in Dutch Labour Law and Regulations 2024

The new year has brought significant changes to the labour laws in the Netherlands, affecting both employees and employers.

Double-Benefit Minimum Wage Hikes

The statutory minimum wage has been raised by 3.75% from January 1, 2024, for all existing employees. The existing monthly system will be replaced by an hourly system of gross minimum wage for employees aged 21 or more at €13.27/hour. The new law provides for adequate compensation for additional hours of labour over the 36-hour workweek.

Scaling Back on the 30% Ruling

Employers will need to gradually reduce the extraterritorial benefits given to foreign employees over the 5 years for which 30% of the employee’s salary is tax-free. Starting January 1, 2024, the tax-free level will remain at 30% for the first 20 months, at 20% for the following 20 months, and 10% for the last 20 months.

Tax-Free WFH Allowance Raised

The untaxed allowance for home office expenses that work-from-home employees may claim has been raised from €2.15 to €2.35 per working day.

Increased Benefits for Employees on the Move

While there is no obligation for employers to reimburse business commutes, the reimbursement rate has been raised to €0.23 per kilometre travelled. Notably, work-from-home and travel allowance cannot be claimed for the same day. However, an employee who visits a customer and returns to work (at home) for the rest of the day can claim €2.15 as home office allowance and €0.23/km of travel allowance for that day.

Revised Salary Thresholds for Highly Skilled Migrants

The gross monthly salary thresholds, excluding the 8% holiday allowance, have been revised for highly skilled migrants on the payroll from or after January 1, 2024.

  • Highly skilled migrants under 30 years of age: €3.909
  • Highly skilled migrants 30 years or older: €5.331
  • European Blue Card holders: €6.245

The employer must guarantee and directly pay the gross monthly income to the foreign national’s bank account. There is no obligation to revise the gross salary threshold for highly skilled migrants employed before January 1, 2024.

UK: The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 is Expected to Come into Force Around October 2024

Proposed as a reform to the worker protection and harassment laws, the final form of the Worker Protection Act includes greater proactive responsibility for employers to prevent sexual harassment and create policies to deal with reported cases.

Necessary Preventive Measures

The British Worker Protection Act will include additional employer duties to protect employees against sexual harassment and take “reasonable steps” to prevent the same. However, the duty to protect employees against harassment from third parties, which was part of the Equality Act 2010, has been dropped. Although the new legislation sends a clear message for employers to improve workplace culture and highlight the need to prevent sexual harassment, it does not actually mandate that employers change any existing anti-harassment policies. However, if such policies are not deemed robust, the Act does provide for higher compensation if harassment occurs in such workplaces.

The steps that employers need to take will be clearly updated in the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) technical guidance. These may include:

  • Developing appropriate anti-harassment policies.
  • Conducting regular and refresher training.
  • Providing safe procedures for reporting and investigating harassment.
  • Defining measures to deal with complaints.

How Will the Law Be Enforced?

The EHRC will provide additional resources to implement the law in practice. Failing to foster a zero-tolerance culture against sexual harassment will call for action from the commission. Ambiguity in policies for raising and dealing with sexual harassment concerns will be taken seriously. Additionally, if an employer fails to fulfill its duty and the employee reports a harassment incident, the compensation may be increased by up to 25%.

Germany: 3 Key Changes in German Labour Law 2024

The German government has been taking significant steps to making life easier for foreign workers in the country.

Minimum Wage Rate Raised

Germany reported a shortage of 2 million workers in 2023 and decided to ease its immigration rules. In addition, starting January 1, 2024, the statutory minimum wage will be set to €12.41 per hour and raised further to €12.82 per hour from January 1, 2025. The minimum training allowance will also be raised to €649 per month, increasing every year till the training is complete.

Sick Leaves Via Telephone

Germany has reintroduced the provision for employees to obtain a medical certificate (of up to 7 days) for sick leave via telephone. The doctor has the authority to decide whether in-person consultation is required to decide on an individual’s capacity to work.

However, obtaining the medical certificate via telephone is subject to the following conditions:

  • The patient must not have severe symptoms.
  • The practicing doctor must know the patient personally.
  • If the incapacity to work is indeterminable via a video call.

A practitioner who does not know the patient personally can issue the certificate for a maximum of 3 days.

Compensatory Levy Increased for Failure to Employ Severely Disabled Individuals

The Act to Promote an Inclusive Job Market has increased the monthly levy rate for failing to fill an adequate number of jobs with disabled individuals from €360 to €720, starting January 1, 2024. The increased quota applies to positions vacant since the beginning of 2024. The Act applies to all companies with 20 or more employees, while special regulations for enterprises with fewer than 40 and 60 workers remain unchanged.

Cyprus: Government to Issue Blue Cards for Skilled Foreign Workers

The Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cyprus has approved the implementation of the European Blue Card scheme. The cabinet approved the amendment bills that will set out procedures regarding the entry and residence of highly skilled third-country nationals.

Enriching the Workforce

The legislation is set to align Cyprus with the updated EU Directive of 2021 and is an attempt to attract and retain workers in the sectors facing skill shortages in the country. Under the EU directive, the Blue Card allows highly qualified non-EU citizens to explore work opportunities across member nations.

“The proposed changes aim to adopt a more flexible framework for the entry and residence of high-skilled workers from countries outside the EU,” said Constantinos Ioannou, Minister of Interior. This is an effort to encourage and facilitate legal migration and attract talent to the country.

Can You Consider Yourself Highly Skilled?

According to the new legislation, a highly skilled worker should possess one or more of the following:

  • A tertiary education degree of at least three years.
  • Relevant professional experience in the ICT sector of at least 3 years within the 7 years preceding the date of Blue Card application.

Benefits of the EU Blue Card

In addition to simplifying the entry process, cardholders get:

  • Benefits of international protection under the EU directive.
  • Increased rights for family members of the cardholder.
  • Enhanced mobility in the short and long term within the EU, after 12 months of employment in Cyprus.
  • Simplified access to residential status and naturalisation for the long term.

The government plans to establish a one-stop service at the Population and Migration Registry Department to simplify and accelerate the Blue Card application and issuance process.

Bulgaria and Romania to Join Schengen Area

The European Commission has approved the ninth enlargement of the Schengen Area, welcoming Bulgaria and Romania. With this addition, the Schengen Area will grow to 4.5 million square kilometres with a population of 450 million people.

End of the 13-Year Struggle

While the two nations had joined the EU in 2007, the EC first confirmed their readiness to join the bloc in 2011. The decision to add 2 new nations to the 27-nation Schengen Area came after 3 voluntary “fact-finding missions” around the borders in 2022 and 2023 confirmed the readiness of Bulgaria and Romania.

Following the approval, Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu of Romania posted on Facebook, saying, “After 13 years, finally Romania will join Schengen! We have a political agreement on this!”

There Still are Some Hiccups

The EC decided to lift air and sea controls by March 31, 2024, through a unanimous vote in December. This further expands the world’s largest internal area without border controls. It will expedite the movement of businesses and individuals, eliminating the time that is otherwise lost at the borders.

However, the timeline for lifting controls from land borders is yet to be decided, due to the veto exercised by Austria. Moreover, Vienna seconded the opinion of Mozart’s birthplace and proposed “Air Schengen” as a precursor to permitting free movement across internal land borders.

Benefits of the Inclusion

Joining the Schengen Area brings Bulgaria and Romania closer to passport-free movement across the region. Individuals with a Bulgarian or Romanian visa will not have to go through additional checks while moving via sea or air routes in the bloc. Non-EU travellers will now have to count their stay in Romania and Bulgaria as part of the time spent in the Schengen Area under any visa. This cannot be longer than 90 days within any 180-day period.

With the new governance model, a redesigned evaluation mechanism, and the annual reporting and monitoring cycle, the addition of the two nations is expected to make the Schengen Area stronger and more resilient against foreign threats.