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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. Above all, the communities and regions guarantee 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 2020 is 11 492 641 inhabitants, 57.7% of whom reside in Flanders, 31.8% in Wallonia, 10.6% 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 61 235 people, or 0.54%. This growth is primarily attributable to net international migration. The population traditionally consists of slightly more women (numbering 5 832 577 or 51%) than men (numbering 5 660 064 or 49%).

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.

The Covid-19 crisis early in 2020 halted this positive trend. In Belgium, as elsewhere, there was a public lockdown in the second quarter of 2020. Businesses were shut down and work in general was rearranged. Finally, activity progressively 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. The crisis continues to make itself felt, though its impact on the labour market eased a little in June 2020.

In June 2020, a new rising trend was noted in employment levels in the Brussels-Capital and Flanders regions. Employment stands at 75.5% in Flanders and 61.7% in Brussels, marking a return to the levels recorded pre-crisis. In Wallonia, employment rose slightly in April and May, before falling to 62.7% in June.

The ILO unemployment rate in Belgium rose from 4.3% to 5.3% between April and June 2020. In Flanders, unemployment remains low, at 2.9%, whereas in Brussels and Wallonia, the trend is clearly upward. In June 2020, unemployment stood at 12.9% in Brussels and 7.7% in Wallonia.

The package of government measures on temporary unemployment and financial support for the self-employed has limited job losses. However, Belgium is currently in economic recession on a scale hitherto unknown, which will have an impact on jobs and unemployment. The Institute of Economic and Social Research at UCLouvain expects 106 000 job losses in Belgium in 2020. After the fall in the second quarter, it expects only a partial resumption of activity, weakened by bankruptcies, across many sectors. The expectation is therefore a rise in the number of unemployed job seekers and a rise in unemployment from 5.4% at the end of 2019 to 9.1% at the end of 2021.

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, Delhaize Group, Carrefour Belgium and Randstad.

The principal sector with the highest number of workers in Belgium is the tertiary sector (services), which accounts for 68.8% of gross domestic product. Commerce, transport and hotels, restaurants and catering (hotels and restaurants) make up the bulk of this sector. Next come public administration, education and business services with 19%. Therefore the most common occupations in Belgium are office workers (general duties), shop assistants, home help, maintenance staff in offices, hotels and other institutions, and teachers of mainstream subjects (secondary education).

Many people in Belgium commute, to work in a different region from that in which they live, or even 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.

 

Text last edited on: 10/2020