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Belgium – Plans to lift public sector ban on temporary work

31 August 2012

Temporary agency workers might soon be allowed to work in the public sector, signalling a major step for the Belgian staffing industry which currently sees wide restrictions on the use of temporary employment in this lucrative professional market.

Staffing Industry Analysts reported in February this year that the Belgian Government is seeking a revamp of the staffing industry. Then the National Labour Council (NLC), which represents unions and employers’ organisations in the country, first announced plans to lift restrictions on agency work in the public sector, particularly in Government-related jobs.

New media reports now suggest that the Belgian politician Hendrik Bogaert, State Secretary for Civil Service & Modernisation of Public Services, is working on a first draft to change the law and open the jobs market to temporary workers in this sector.

But the State Secretary still wants to limit the use of temporary employment, which under present proposals, would only be possible under two main conditions. Firstly, if a permanent worker is absent from work, an agency worker might temporarily replace them for a maximum period of three months. Secondly, agency staff can be employed if there is a significant increase in the workload.

Belgium has been under some pressure to remove these restrictions in order to meet its obligations under the European Agency Work Directive (AWD)  which standardises legislation relating to temporary agency work in the EU  and lifts any unjustified barriers in the market.

The AWD states that temporary agency workers should not be restricted from working in any sector unless it can be justified “on grounds of general interest relating in particular to the protection of temporary agency workers, the requirements of health and safety at work or the need to ensure that the labour market functions properly and abuses are prevented.” Although Belgium has not fully implemented the AWD yet, it is in the process of doing so.

Over one million people are currently employed in the Belgian public sector representing approximately one third of the total workforce. Almost 90% of employment in the public sector is in administration and state education activities. The Belgian staffing association, Federgon, believes that the introduction of temporary workers in the public sector will be a gradual process. It estimates that in five years’ time 1% of the public workforce will be on temporary contracts. In 2011, the value of the Belgian temporary staffing market was €4.2 billion.

Opening the public sector will provide a potential boost to staffing companies operating in the sluggish Belgian market. Earlier this month, Staffing Industry Analysts downgraded its 2012 growth forecast for the Belgian staffing market to -2%.  

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