Labour market information

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Belgium - National Level

Short overview of the labour market


Situated at 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 task 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 (re)integration initiatives geared to their specific situation, ensuring that everyone enjoys equal opportunities.

The population legally registered in Belgium as at 1 January 2019 is 11 431 406 inhabitants, 57.6% of whom reside in Flanders, 31.8% in Wallonia, 10.6% in the Brussels-Capital Region and less than 1% in the municipalities of the German-speaking community. The population has experienced an annual growth of 55 336 people, or 0.49%. This growth is primarily attributable to net international migration. The population traditionally consists of slightly more women (50.8% or 5 803 178 people) than men (49.2% or 5 628 228 people).

Meanwhile, the age distribution continues to illustrate the effect of the ‘ageing of the population’: there are now almost 2.16 million people aged 65 or over, representing 18.9% of the population. The number of young people (<18 years) has also increased, to 2.305 million, but they account for only 20.2% of the population. The ‘working age’ population (aged between 18 and 64) totals 6.953 million people (60.8%). 

2019 was a favourable year for the labour market: employment among the 20-64 age group increased by 0.8% to 70.5%, while the unemployment rate among 15-64 year olds fell by 6% in 2018 to 5.14% in 2019, which is the lowest annual average since 1983.

There are positive trends in employment rates and unemployment rates in the three regions, but there are still major differences between them. With an employment rate of 75.5% among 20-64 year olds and an unemployment rate of 3.3% in the 15-64 age bracket, Flanders clearly registers better results than Brussels and Wallonia. The employment rate in those regions is 61.7% and 64.6% respectively, while the unemployment rate is 12.7% and 7.2% respectively. The unemployment rate also dropped dramatically in Wallonia, from 8.5% in 2018 to 7.2% in 2019, mainly due to the sharp fall in the unemployment rate among women. The unemployment rate fell from 13.4% to 12.7% in Brussels, and from 3.5% to 3.3% in Flanders.

The unemployment rate is falling across all age brackets. Unemployment among young people (aged 15-24), for whom the unemployment rate is higher than for other age brackets, has dropped significantly. It stood at 15.8% in 2018, but came down to 14.2% in 2019. Unemployment among the 25-49 age bracket fell between 2018 to 2019 from 5.7% to 5.0%, while the unemployment rate for 50-64 year olds fell from 4.0% to 3.8%.

Many people in Belgium commute to work in a different region from that in which they live, or even commute abroad (‘cross-border workers’). Most commuting is from Flanders and Wallonia to the Brussels-Capital Region, where there are more jobs than members of the active population. 

Most employment in Belgium is in services. There are not very many major industrial companies in Belgium; one such company though is the steel giant Arcelor Mittal, which is based mainly in Wallonia. The car manufacturer Volvo Cars is based in Ghent in Flanders. The top 10 places are all occupied by service industries in the transport and communication, finance and distribution/retail sectors. The list includes Bpost, the bank BNP Paribas Fortis, ING Belgium and KBC Bank, HR Rail, Colruyt Group, Proximus, the Delhaize Group, Carrefour Belgium and Randstad.

The principal sector, with the highest number of workers, is the tertiary sector (services), which accounts for 68.8% of Belgium’s GDP (gross domestic product). Commerce, transport and hospitality (hotels, restaurants and catering) make up the bulk of this sector. Next come public administration, education and business services with 19%.


Text last edited on: 05/2020

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