There’s a saying in Belgium which is supposed to show the difference between Belgium and the Netherlands : “In Holland, everything that is not strictly allowed is forbidden; in Belgium anything that is not strictly forbidden is allowed.”

Don’t believe a word of it. That’s what I found out when my dad died. All I had to say in Llanwern was that my dad had died, that I needed to go to Bruges for the funeral and that I probably would be a few days. My brother, on the other hand, had to bring a copy of the death certificate to prove that his father had really died. At this stage he was the production manager at Kronos in Ghent, so not all that low in the ranks, but presumably the rules were being applied to everyone irrespective of rank.

And this trust was not an isolated case : when my mother-in-law died, I had to switch plans for a week’s holiday in Belgium and instead spend that week in the Potteries, helping my wife arrange the funeral. When I returned to work the next week, Tony Franks (at the time my boss at Allied Steel & Wire) asked how the holiday had been. As soon a he learnt that it hadn’t really been much of a holiday, he immediately converted the week’s holiday into bereavement. No questions asked. No proof needed. Somehow that strikes me as utterly decent.

Likewise when my mother died. At the time I was on holiday in Burma when my daughter rang with the news that my mother was going downhill very fast, and we might have to make plans to return early. I sent an email to work, shortly followed by more emails, the last one stating that my mother had died and that I would have to spend part of the coming week in Belgium for the funeral, followed by formalities to do with the death certificate and the will. That was all that was needed to convert one week of my holiday into a bereavement period. Again, it’s something that is appreciated when the last thing you want is to sort out formalities.

You can say whatever you want about the steel industry in the UK and how it lags behind many other plants on the continent in productivity and profitability, but when it comes to handling periods of bereavement, I never have been let down.


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