Triangle Talk - Mobility and work: stuck in traffic together, lovely, isn’t it?

Triangle Talk - Mobility and work: stuck in traffic together, lovely, isn’t it?

Speakers: Robby Vanuxem (Managing Director Hays Belgium) & Dimitris Bousoulas (syndicate representative ACV Antwerp )
We’re all stuck in traffic on our way to work and yet, we still continue to pick our cars over public transport and bikes. Are Belgian employees simply too attached to their cars to choose alternatives, or do the government and companies still promote cars too much? And, we can’t talk about mobility without mentioning company cars, because few things have as many supporters and opponents as that. Are there really no viable alternatives?

Dimitris Bousoulas, syndicate representative for ACV Antwerp and member of the board of directors at i-Bus, and Robby Vanuxem, Managing Director at Hays discuss the pros and cons of company cars and possible solutions to Belgium's mobility problems. Read a summary of the seven most remarkable quotes, questions and answers from the first episode of the second season of Hays Triangle Talk!

"Should we stay closer to home when looking for a new job?”

Dimitris Bousoulas of ACV Antwerp starts with the elephant in the room: company cars. "We’re one of the few countries that parafiscally favor our own traffic jams, and this is costing us money and valuable time," he says. Dimi adds that "there has already been a reform since Di Rupo, but it wasn’t enough." He concludes with the following statement: is it useful to partially subsidize our own traffic jams? Robby Vanuxem, Managing Director at Hays, disagrees. He explains that we’re "in a very specific Belgian situation and in a war for talent. Everyone is trying to creatively anticipate this, and Robby adds that "as long as there’s no political answer, the discussion remains very difficult."

"Company cars can be scrapped, but what will replace them?"

14% of Belgian employees have a company car. "This has doubled since 2013," Dimitris notes. As a syndicate representative, Dimitris represents all workers, which is why he also advocates that it should be partially compensated. According to a recent study by SD Worx, 50% of company cars are services cars, used by self-employed people like painters. So out of that 14%, only 8% are truly company cars.

Dimitris clarifies that "an accountant driving from client to client, can’t really be qualified under ‘company cars’, it’s a little ambiguous". He also talks about 'cash for cars,' a measure that was once introduced but was later overturned by the Constitutional Court. "Unfortunately, this initiative wasn't a big success because company cars still make up a significant part of people's salaries. People aren't going to choose an alternative voluntarily, there will have to be some sort of coercion from the government," he concludes.

The mobility budget is supposed to be the miracle cure, "but when actually you offer a plan where people can choose an environmentally friendly car or public transportation, only 8% choose this option. So, there's still a lot of work to be done around awareness," according to Robby.

Dimitris advises us to not only look at the government, "there’s plenty of changes we can make on company level," he further explains. Robby asks to focus more on our CO2 emissions: "When people talk about sustainable mobility, it's actually about emitting as little CO2 as possible. That's why electric company cars are a good solution for greener mobility." Dimi makes another important comment here: "Sustainable mobility is also about time and space. We need to think about how to get people on bikes more on a micro level, company level and society level."

The Belgian government's new formulas to creatively solve mobility problems

One example is i-BUS, a free shuttle bus that allows workers in the port of Antwerp to get to and from work. Unfortunately, this initiative wasn't a big hit: "People would rather hop in their own cars. A cafeteria plan is an alternative, but that's how you cut down on collective transportation," Dimi explains. Robby does specify that "this is about a niche in the workforce. For that specific target group, it's important to give more thought to efficiency."

"Here comes the labour syndicate again to question benefits"

According to Dimitris some people do progress with a cafeteria plan, "especially when there's some net added. With a cafeteria plan, you can exchange a part of your salary for other benefits like additional leave days, buy an iPad with your end-of-year bonus, a car,..." Many of these formulas are beneficial to employees, but they also have some long-term consequences: your gross pay is a lot less, so your pension will also be lower, and if you get sick, it will also be lower. For these reasons, Robby insists on the importance of communicating clearly and on time as an employer. He adds that "the effect fades after a while. In the beginning it has a positive impact and after some time it becomes an acquired right. The cafeteria plan needs to be combined with other benefits to have a lasting effect, such as bicycle leasing."

"We can't ask people with company cars to fix it" 

"We're a small country within a larger whole. In fact, we're a transit country. Almost everyone has to take our highways to get from one point to another. The Belgian people should not take full responsibility for traffic jams. We need to look at 'the bigger picture' and maybe even on European level," Robby said.

"Working less is the solution"

Ann Vermorgen, new president of the ACV, suggested a five-week instead of four-week vacation. Dimitris agrees and feels that "this could partially solve the mobility crisis. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the busiest days on the road, on the other weekdays people work from home or don't work at all. This helps tremendously with the traffic jams."

According to Robby, employers and employees have realized that when there's trust in the relationship, people can work together much more flexibly. "More freedom can be given to employees, although this is more difficult in certain jobs. You have to achieve certain results, but this doesn't have to be from 8:30am to 4:30pm."

"Search for talent in a shorter radius?"

Because Belgium is such a saturated country, there'll always be confrontation. "You have to make your own decision as an employee whether you want to work close to home, based on your personal situation," Robby advises. "More and more companies are opting for 'satellite offices.' There’s a headquarters, but you can also work in a satellite office elsewhere because it might be closer to home. So definitely make sure to get the balance right, which can be specific to the industry and the position you're in."
We are in a positive evolution, though: "Gen Z no longer wants company cars, while the Baby boomers and Gen X can't seem to let it go just yet," says Robby. Investing and changing people's mindsets takes a very long time. One solution: technology! Speed paddle X’s, drones to deliver packages, ... "It's a personal choice to sit in traffic every day." "A detrimental choice for others," Dimitris and Robby conclude.
If you enjoyed this recap, you can listen to the full episode here (in Dutch). Subscribe to Triangle Talk on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify for more inspiring stories. Don’t forget to leave us a review!
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Benedicte Mbayi

Content Marketeer Hays Belgium

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