Local employment agencies, Belgium
The system of ‘Local employment agencies’ (Agences locales pour l’emploi/Plaatselijke werkgelegenheidsagentschappen, ALE/PWA) was the first attempt to transfer certain household services into the formal labour market in Belgium. Up to then, many of these services were made available through undeclared work. Through the ALE/PWA, long-term unemployed people can carry out neighbourhood services for private persons, local authorities, non-profit associations or schools.
The system of local employment agencies (Agences locales pour l’emploi/Plaatselijke werkgelegenheidsagentschappen, ALE/PWA) was the first attempt to transfer certain household services into the formal labour market in Belgium. Up to then, many of these services were available through undeclared work. Set up in 1994, the ALE/PWA system also aimed to reintegrate long-term unemployed people into the labour market. ALE/PWAs have been established in all Belgian municipalities. Through the ALE/PWA, long-term unemployed people can carry out neighbourhood services for private people, local authorities, non-profit associations or schools. They keep their entire unemployment benefit and receive an income supplement of €4.10 per hour worked; this is paid via ALE/PWA vouchers obtained by the service users (Horlings, 2011).
The creation of local employment agencies in a commune or in a group of communes aims to satisfy the demand for activities that are not found in the regular labour market and which are not in competition with it. In addition, the local employment agencies have to cater for the demand for jobs from long-term unemployed people, payees of the social integration incomes and some payees of the financial social aids, who cannot find a job on the labour market.
A worker from a local employment agency can work the following per month:
- 45 hours: For another person (household aid and administrative tasks), for local authorities or for non-profit companies and associations.
- 70 hours: For another person (gardening, caring and surveillance) or for schools.
- 150 hours: For agriculture and horticulture sectors (only for seasonal works).
There is a limit of 630 hours per year that workers cannot go past. The worker from a local employment agency is paid by the cheques bought by the users. The cost of the cheques is between €5.95 and €7.95 and varies from one agency to another, but also varies due to the kind of tasks. To buy cheques, the user has to enroll in the local employment agency in the commune where they live. On the form, the user has to explain the tasks needed.
Many actors can be involved in a local employment agency. However, there are different kinds of actors:
- Workers: To work for a local employment agency, the person has to have been unemployed for at least two years or has to be 45 years old and unemployed for six months. People who received unemployment benefits for at least 24 months during the last 36 months after having been enroled in a local agency are also eligible.
- Private people: People who can ask for specific tasks, such as gardening, caring, etc.
- Local authorities: They can ask for temporary and exceptional tasks (library, caring, etc.) or can propose activities such as a security and prevention assistant.
- Non-profit companies and associations: Occasional tasks usually done by volunteers.
- Teaching establishments: Occasional tasks usually done by volunteers.
- Agriculture and horticulture sectors: For seasonal activities.
- National Employment Office (Office National de l’Emploi (ONEm) – Rijksdienst voor Arbeidsvoorziening (RVA)): Supervises the demand on the labour market.
- Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour and Social Concertation (Service Public Fédéral Emploi, Travail et Concertation Sociale – Federale Overheidsdienst Werkgelegenheid, Aarbeid en Sociaal Overleg): Is in charge of the regulation.
- Accor Services: Is in charge of signing and distributing the cheques to the local employment agencies.
Outcome of evaluations; lessons and conclusions
Achievement of objectives
This measure was a great success in the first year. Indeed, the figures below show that the number of contracts with the local employment agencies increased between 2000 and 2004. However, since 2004 and the introduction of the service vouchers, the number of contracts significantly decreased. The service vouchers offer more opportunities for unemployed people. Nevertheless, the local employment agencies still exist, and even if there are fewer than before (probably due to the service vouchers), the current number of contracts and hours worked show that the measures to combat undeclared work are successful.
Obstacles and problems
The major issue is the difficulty of defining the amount of undeclared work that is still present in Belgium. The authorities believe that the success of this measure has reduced the amount of undeclared work. The number of contracts awarded through the local employment agencies is an indication of the number of workers who might engage in undeclared work if this measure did not exist. However, this does not measure the amount of undeclared work that still remains.
In addition, it was considered a disadvantage that the scheme leaves those who are unemployed in a state of dependency on social allowances and could lead those benefiting from the highest allowances into an unemployment trap, whereby it is financially more attractive to remain unemployed than to get a job. The system also does not offer a real employment contract (Horlings, 2011).
The Belgian government found a way to reduce the amount of undeclared work and thus reduce the issues of work accidents and financial fraud (regarding taxation). In addition, this is a way to partly and temporarily increase the number of people on the labour market and therefore reduce the unemployment rate.
Politicians also understood that providing opportunities and facilities to unemployed people to work as well as showing that there were advantages to working was a win-win situation. Therefore, the government has gone further and created the service vouchers.
Source: Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour and Social Concertation
Source: Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour and Social Concertation
This measure is already available in all regions in Belgium. However, the workers from local employment agencies can only work in the agriculture and horticulture sectors. Politicians are currently not considering the possibility of expanding this measure to other sectors. Indeed, the aim is to answer a seasonal demand for work that other sectors do not have.
The European Commission acknowledged this measure as a good practice to tackle undeclared work.
Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue (Service public fédéral Emploi, Travail et Concertation sociale/Federale Overheidsdienst Werkgelegenheid, Arbeid en Sociaal Overleg): www.dienstencheques.be
Belgium Information Office (undeclared work): http://www.belgium.be/fr/emploi/contrats_de_travail/types_de_contrats/travail_non_declare/
Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour and Social Concertation (definitions and explanations): http://www.emploi.belgique.be/defaultTab.aspx?id=718#
Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour and Social Concertation (statistics): http://www.emploi.belgique.be/moduleTab.aspx?id=718&idM=218
Eurofound (2009), Measures to tackle undeclared work in the European Union, available at /ef/publications/report/2009/undefined/measures-to-tackle-undeclared-work-in-the-european-union
Horlings, E. (2011), Service vouchers, Belgium, Eurofound, available at /ef/observatories/eurwork/case-studies/tackling-undeclared-work-in-europe/service-vouchers-belgium
National Employment Office (regulations and services): http://www.rva.be/Frames/frameset.aspx?Path=D_opdracht_PWA/&Items=1&Language=FR
Michel Ajzen, Institut des Sciences du Travail – UCL