Labour market information

Print this page

Belgium - National Level

Short overview of the labour market

 

Situated in the heart of Europe, Belgium is a federal state that is subdivided into communities and regions.

 

In Belgium, powers relating to employment are shared between the federal government on the one hand, and the regions and the German-speaking Community on the other.

 

It is the Federal Government’s responsibility to create a framework that promotes the optimal development of employment and solidarity, and to ensure that all citizens have equal rights and opportunities. The communities and regions guarantee, above all, optimal conditions for access to, and participation in, the labour market, and develop integration and reintegration initiatives geared to their specific situation, ensuring that everyone enjoys equal opportunities.

 

As of 1 January 2021, the population legally registered in Belgium is 11 507 163, 57.8% of whom reside in Flanders, 31.7% in Wallonia, 10.5% in the Brussels Capital Region, and fewer than 1% in the municipalities of the German-speaking Community. The population has experienced an annual growth of 14 522 people, or 0.13%. This growth is primarily attributable to net international migration. The population traditionally consists of slightly more women (50.7%) than men (49.3%).

 

2019 was quite a favourable year for the labour market: employment among the 20-64 age group increased by 0.8 percentage points (compared to 2018) to 70.5%, while the unemployment rate among the 20-64 age group fell from 5.8% in 2018 to 5.2% in 2019, the lowest annual average since 1983.

 

This positive trend was halted in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis. In Belgium, as elsewhere, there was a public lockdown, businesses were closed and work in general was reorganised until eventually activity gradually resumed. COVID-19 began as a public health crisis but rapidly expanded into an economic and social crisis. A gradual return to pre-crisis conditions is not expected until after 2021. As of June 2020, although the crisis continues to make itself felt in the labour market, its impact has eased a little.

 

As a result of the crisis, the Belgian employment rate was slightly lower at the end of 2020 than at the end of 2019: it fell from 70.5% to 69.9%, with a fall in both the Flemish Region (from 75.7% to 74.5%) and the Brussels Capital Region (from 62.3% to 61.4%). In Wallonia, the rate actually rose slightly, from 64% to 64.7%.

 

The ILO unemployment rate (based on the number of jobseekers and those out of work and available to start quickly) in Belgium rose from 5% to 5.7% between the end of 2019 and the end of 2020. In Flanders, this rate remains low, despite the increase from 2.6% to 3.2%, whereas unemployment is a little higher in Brussels and Wallonia, with an increase from 11.7% to 12.8% in Brussels and from 7.4% to 8% in Wallonia.

 

The package of government measures, including temporary lay-offs and financial support for individuals and the self-employed, has limited job losses. Nevertheless, Belgium is still in an unprecedented economic crisis that is likely to have serious consequences for employment and the unemployment rate. Although, according to the National Bank of Belgium (NBB), the economic recovery has started earlier than expected, with a growth of 0.6% in the first quarter of 2021, the Federal Planning Bureau still expects total domestic employment to decrease by around 30 000 people in 2021. The number of unemployed jobseekers is expected to grow by around 50 000, while the unemployment rate (according to the Federal Planning Bureau’s broader definition) is expected to rise from an average of 9.1% in 2020 to an average of 9.9% in 2021.

 

In Belgium, the majority of employment is in the service sector. There are few major industrial companies in Belgium, although one such company is steel giant ArcelorMittal, which is based mainly in Wallonia. In Flanders there is a Volvo Cars factory in Ghent, and an Audi factory in the Brussels municipality of Forest. The other major vehicle manufacturers Renault, Opel and Ford pulled out some time ago. The Top 10 is made up entirely of service businesses in the transport and communications, finance, and distribution/retail sectors. The list comprises bpost; the banks BNP Paribas Fortis, ING Belgium and KBC Bank; HR Rail, the Colruyt Group; Proximus; the Delhaize Group; Carrefour Belgium; and Randstad.

 

The principal sector in Belgium, which also has the highest number of workers, is the tertiary sector (service sector), which accounts for 68.8% of GDP (gross domestic product). Commerce, transport and hospitality make up the bulk of this sector. Next come public administration, education and business services, making up 19%. Therefore, the most common occupations in Belgium are office workers in both the public and private sectors (general duties); shop assistants; home help; maintenance staff in offices, hotels and other businesses; and teachers.

 

Many people in Belgium commute to work in a different region from the one in which they live, or even abroad. These are known as cross-border workers. Most commuting takes place from Flanders and Wallonia to the Brussels Capital Region, where there are more jobs than people in the labour force.

 

Text last edited on: 08/2021