Over 18,000 officials working for the Walloon, French-speaking regional authorities in federal Belgium, have been told that they will disciplined if they are seen smoking in public and that their salaries will be docked for the time they spend on cigarette breaks.
“The presence of officials smoking outside offices is not likely to give a positive image to our administration,” said a letter sent to all staff.
“Officials are invited to smoke in the courtyards of buildings or car parks out of the sight of passers-by. Failure to comply could result in disciplinary proceedings.”
One official told Le Soir newspaper that staff had been required to clock out for a smoke since August but were now being punished if they are seen smoking in public.
“Our attendance record then contains the words ‘invalid day: schedule not totally respected’,” said the civil servant. “This has shocked everyone, even my non-smoker colleagues.”
Belgium’s powerful public sector trade unions are taking up the issue. “Are they going to trouble someone for taking a few minutes for coffee or going to the bathroom?,” said Xavier Lorent, a trade union official. “It is a stigmatising smoking. Smoking is an individual freedom. Nothing says that a person will be less productive because he smokes.”
By Bruno Waterfield, Brussels