Belgium: Temporary agency work and collective bargaining in the EU

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 18 December 2008


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Temporary agency work in Belgium is a highly regulated sector. Conditions to hire out employees to another enterprise or to recruit temporary workers are strictly defined while working conditions of the temporary workers are guaranteed by law to be similar to any other workers executing the same job in the same company. Trade unions were at first reluctant to this form of occupation because of its temporary character considered as more precarious. However, trade unions refuse to consider temporary workers as “second rate” workers and are then actively involved in negotiating for better working conditions for this kind of workers.Temporary work agencies are currently positioning their activities on a new dimension such as recruitment of specific profiles, outplacement, training, human resources strategies and are then positioning the sector as “partners for employment”.

Section 1. Definitions

1) In your country, is there a statutory definition of:

a) temporary agency work?b) agency worker?c) user enterprise?

Temporary agency work has been defined in the law of the 24th July 1987 on the temporary and temporary agency work and hiring out of workers to clients.

Temporary agency work is defined in the Belgian law as “a temporary job realized by a worker for a temporary work company at a third company, the user enterprise”. (Law of 24th July 1987)

Besides, the law gives the definition of the three parts involved that identify clearly the employer agency worker.

The temporary work agency is defined as “[…] an enterprise whose activity involves hiring temporary workers and supplies them to company users for the performance of an authorized temporary job […]”. (Article 7, § 1)

The agency worker is defined as “[…] a worker who enters into a contract of employment in order to be supplied to one or more user companies”(Article 7, §3); while the temporary agency work contract is “the agreement by which the temporary worker hire oneself out to a temporary work company for a salary to perform an authorized temporary work in a user company”.( Article 7, §2)

However, there is no legal definition of the ‘user enterprise’ even if temporary work is limited for some kind of activities or sectors.

2) Is there a collectively agreed definition of:

a) temporary agency work?b) agency worker?c) user enterprise?

No, these terms are defined in the law of the 24th July 1987.

3) In your country, would you describe TAW as a sector in its own right?

Temporary agency work is considered as a sector in its own rights. There is a joint committee ( Commission paritaire/ Paritaire comite) for TAW, this is the JC n°322 where both part of the industry are present and negotiate sectoral collective agreements. In this committee, the Belgian Federation of Employers (Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique/Verbond van Belgische Ondernemingen, FEB/VBO) has 6 mandates, the Federation of temporary work enterprises (Fédération des partenaires de l’emploi/ Federatie van partners voor werk, FEDERGON ) has 9 mandates while the trade unions have for the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens/Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond, CSC/ACV) 7 mandates, for the Federation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium (Centrale Générale des Syndicats Libéraux de Belgique/Algemene Centrale der Liberale Vakbonden van België, CGSLB/ACLVB) one mandate and for the Belgian General Federation of Labour (Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique/Algemeen Belgisch Vakverbond, FGTB/ABVV) 7 mandates.

Trade unions are divided between several federations that represent workers in different sectors. No trade union has a particular federation for TAW and the sectoral federations represent temporary workers in each activity.

Yet, the temporary work agency employers are represented by a specific organization, FEDERGON.

Section 2. Regulatory framework

1) Have there been any changes in the law concerning TAW since 2004?

a) Yes b) No

In 2005, the law concerning the solidarity pact between generations has been adopted. This law includes a new kind of situation of authorised temporary work. (Law of the 23rd December 2005 on the solidarity pact between generations- chapters 10, Article 56, §7) (BE0602304F )

According to this provision, a worker may be recruited under a temporary work contract if is included in its reinsertion process and if the job constitutes a professional experience that would favour the worker in its job research. This is applicable for two target groups: unemployed job seekers and people with minimum welfare benefit.

2) How is TAW regulated in your country?

a) Is there a legal framework specifically for TAW; and/or is it covered by general labour law (including case law/ jurisprudence)?

There is a law that defined the general framework of the temporary work in general, the law of the 24th July 1987 that concerns temporary work, temporary agency work and the hiring-out of workers to clients. This law is implemented by Royal Decrees. Temporary agency workers enjoy the same terms and conditions of employment and the same salary than permanent workers in the user enterprise. Temporary workers are always hired on a fixed-term contract and are then covered by the general labour laws.

b) What is the role, if any, of collective labour agreements and self-regulation?

Collective agreements concluded in the joint committee 322 as well as collective agreement concluded in the National Labour Council (Conseil National du Travail/Nationale Arbeidsraad, CNT/NAR) apply to temporary workers. Sectoral and national collective agreements complete, such as for “general worker”, the provisions of the law in terms of working conditions, retirement bonus, training,…

3) What is regulated in these provisions? In particular, does it cover:

a) use of agency work (e.g. length of assignment, sectoral bans, permitted reasons of use, number of agency workers per company, other)

The article 1 of the law defines three situations in which temporary agency work is authorized:

• as a replacement for a permanent worker

• temporary and exceptional peaks of work

• unusual work

In the sector of removal firms and furniture warehouses (JC 140.05) as well as in inland waterways (JC 139), enterprises cannot hire temporary blue-collar workers. (Law of 1987 and Royal decrees)

Other activities with a dangerous character are banned for temporary agency work as well. (Royal Decree 1997)

Temporary work is also banned when the user enterprise wants to replace a worker during a period of unemployment for economical or technical reasons or because of bad weather.

Besides, in case of strike movement or lockout, no temporary workers can be hired. (law 1987)

The maximum length of the assignment will depend on certain conditions defined in the national collective agreement n°47bis (18th November 1990).

• The whole replacement period, when it concerns the replacement of a permanent workers in case of a suspension of his/her employment contract ( for sick leave for instance)

• A maximum of 6 months when the temporary worker is replacing a dismissed permanent worker, with a maximum of an additional period of 6 months with the agreement of the trade union delegation.

• When temporary peaks of production, the length authorized by the trade union delegation without any maximum period of time

• If there is no trade union delegation and in the case of a peak of production a period of 6 months is authorized and two prolongations of 6 months each, if two other specific organs are informed.

• In case of an unusual work, the length of the assignment varies from 7 days to 12 months depending on the situation.

In certain cases, the user enterprise has to ask the agreement of the trade union delegation in order to hire a temporary agency worker.

• Replacement of a dismissed worker (with serious reasons or if there is a notice)

• Temporary peaks of production (authorization on the length of the assignment and on the number of temporary agency workers hired)

• Replacement prolongation of a dismissed worker for an additional period of six months.

If there is no trade union delegation in the user company, a sectoral social fund or a mediation organ composed by employer’s representatives and trade unions will have to be informed about the hiring out of temporary workers but no prior agreement will be necessary.

b) the form of the contract (e.g. project, fixed-term, special contract, open ended, etc.)

According to the law, temporary workers are always hired on a fixed-term contract and are covered by the general labour laws. The contract has to mention the name of the user, the salary, the function of the temporary worker in the user company, his/her qualifications.(Law of 1987)

c) social security and social benefits

The wages and the working conditions of the temporary workers are settled in the law of the 24th July 1987. A temporary worker has to receive the wage he/she would have received if recruited as a permanent worker by the user company.

The provisions regarding the end of the year benefit or retirement benefits are defined in the national collective agreement of the 6th July 2007 about the retirement benefits for temporary workers. The amount of the benefit and the provisions made by the workers are defined more precisely in the sub-sectoral temporary sectors. (sectoral collective agreements)

d) conditions to open a TAW agency (e.g. license or authorisation schemes, supervision by public authorities, financial requirements, or others - please specify)

The conditions to open a TAW agency are defined by the regional authorities through a regional decree. Among those conditions, an important one is to respect the social laws.

The license is delivered by the regional authorities on the advice of a commission composed by social partners. There is one commission for each region. Other conditions such as the length of the license will be different in each region.

e) business activities/services delivered by TW agencies (e.g. prohibition to provide other services than TAW)?

Companies other than TAW agencies are allowed to hiring out workers to other companies but under strict conditions enumerated by the law of 1987.

The TW agencies will obtain the license to be able to provide workers to other companies if those activities are exercised as principal activity or accessory activity. Those rules are defined by the regional decrees ruling the license conditions.

f) third-national companies or temporary agency workers (e.g. activities of foreign agencies)?

Not mentioned in any regulation

4) Do any regulations (by law and/or collective bargaining in the TAW sector) specify equal treatment rights for agency workers with permanent workers in the user enterprise concerning:

a) payb) trainingc) other terms or conditions of employment?

The law imposes the same level of salary for the temporary worker than if the worker would have been recruited as a permanent worker. However, the temporary worker would not benefit of hospitalization insurances and group insurances.

The working time conditions applied in the sector and in the company are applied as well to the temporary agency workers.

Other terms of employment are negotiated within the joint committee for TAW: end of the year benefit…

Provisions about training are defined in sectoral collective agreements organizing the funding of training by TW agencies.

5) Do TAW workers have the right to information, consultation and representation?

A national collective agreement (n°36 quarter, 27th November 1981) allows the establishment of a trade union delegation in TW agencies in order to represent the right of the temporary workers.

However, in practice, this collective agreement was never applied and the temporary workers are represented in the user enterprise by the trade union delegation present in it. In the case of a conflict between the temporary workers and the TW agency, the worker can use a special joint mediation organ (la commission des bons offices/de commissie goede diensten).

However, the number of temporary workers present in a user enterprise is taken into account to determine the minimal necessary threshold of 50 employees to the settlement of a Committee for Prevention and Protection at the Workplace (Comité pour la prévention et protection au travail/Comité voor preventie en bescherming op het werk, CPPT/CPBW) and 100 employees for a Works council (Conseil d'Entreprise/ Ondernemingsraden, CE/OR).

Temporary workers have nevertheless no right to vote in the user enterprise.

According to Delbar and Léonard (2002), the affiliation rate of temps to trade unions is rather important, around two third of temps would be affiliated. (based on workers benefiting from an end of the year provision) .

6) Is there a control/enforcement mechanism regarding any TAW regulation?

If yes,

a) is there a special labour inspectorate or a bi-partite body governing TAW?

According to the law of 1987, labour inspectors have the power to control the respect of the law.

Personal and collective conflicts can be settled within a specific joint organ that serves as a mediation commission (Commission des bons offices/Commissie goede diensten). This commission is constituted by employers’ representatives (ferdergon) and representatives of the three trade unions. When a trade union states a practice that would be illegal, the commission has the power to examine the legality of this practice.

b) are there any sanctions/penalties for not respecting the regulations (whether stemming from law and/or collective agreements)?

Yes penal sanctions are settled in the law.

7) Are there any procedures governing use of TAW and strike breaking?

In particular, can workers on strike be replaced by agency workers?

The law strictly forbids recruiting temporary workers in case of strike or lockouts.

Section 3. Social dialogue and collective bargaining

1) Is there any employers’ association(s) for TAW firms in your country?

The Federation of temporary work enterprises (Fédération des partenaires de l’emploi/ Federatie van partners voor werk, FEDERGON )

Federgon represents around 76 temporary agency workers companies active in Belgium while in 2007, there were 158 enterprises actives in the sector. Federgon represents thus most of the TW agencies in the country and among the most important one.

(Annual report Federgon 2007)

2) Is there any union(s) specifically for agency workers?

No. Temporary workers are represented in each sectoral federation. The first attitude of the trade unions towards the temporary agency work was rather suspicious and opposed to the development of this type of jobs considered as offering precarious working conditions. However, their point of view changes and under the pressure of the trade unions, working conditions for temps increased. So trade unions took into account of the working conditions of temps and then considered it is very important to fight for their rights and working conditions.

The Belgian General Federation of Labour (Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique/Algemeen Belgisch Vakverbond, FGTB/ABVV) organises each year an ‘interim day’ to raise awareness about the working conditions and rights of the temporary workers. According to the trade union, TW agencies do not always respect the provisions of the law and via this campaign want to focus on the difficulties temporary workers could face.

Besides, the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens/Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond, CSC/ACV) organises many local and regional actions.

3) Collective bargaining levels

Is TAW governed by collective bargaining at:

a) intersectoral/ national level?b) the sectoral level for TAW?c) company (ie. temporary agency firm) level?

In Belgium, labour laws and the collective bargaining system is highly hierarchical.

National level

Agreements from the national council of labour

Application to all workers from the private sector

Sectoral level- Several sectors Sectoral level- TAW sector

Agreements from the joint committee Agreements from Joint Committee 322

Application to all workers for related sectors Application for all temporary workers

Enterprise level

Collective agreement

Application to all workers of the enterprise

European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2002): Temporary work agency : national report for Belgium.

4) Collective bargaining outcomes

While the law of 1987 provides a legal basis for hiring-out workers to another company, the national collective agreement n°47 bis (1990) defined the procedures to respect and the derogatory length of temporary assignments in case of peaks of production. The following national collective agreements concern some minor modifications or precisions and derogations in order to relax the legislation.

Sectoral collective agreements negotiated in the JC 322 will concern additional working conditions and terms of employment: collective agreements concluded in JC 322 for temporary workers on wages conditions. Those agreements can be concluded in sub-sectors of JC322. For instance: temporary workers in chemical industries.

Those sectoral agreements do not understand provisions about parity with permanent workers. Temporary work is recognized as a specific sector with specific rules. However, national agreements, sectoral agreements corresponding of the sector of the user enterprise and company level agreements are applied to temporary workers as well and then guarantee the same right than permanent workers.

5) Are there any examples of sector- or company-level collective agreements in other sectors that restrict, permit or otherwise regulate the use of TAW within their domain?

No. Because of the hierarchical form of the collective negotiation system, sectoral and company agreement can not contradict national collective agreements and law.

6) Please provide any data concerning:

a) trade union density for agency workers

60 % according to Delbar & Léonard (2002)

b) the coverage of collective bargaining within the sector.


Section 4. Employment and working conditions of TA workers

1) Please provide the most recent data (averages) on TAW employment

a) longevity of TAW employment, i.e. how long workers remain employed

- in the sector?

Total temporary workers (2005)


1st assignement in 2004


1st assignement before 2004


Before 2000








- with a particular agency?

No data are available on the longevity of the temporary workers within a particular agency. However, the following tables shows the number of temporary agencies where the workers are registered (only one for 30%), the number of agencies that effectively employed the workers (only one for 74.7%) and the number of user enterprises that hired the workers (only one for 58.3%)

Around a third of temporary workers are registrered at only one agency. While another 30% are registrered at five or more TW agencies.

  Weighted Total (%) Flanders (%) Wallonia (%) Brussels (%)
1 33,9 33,2 34,3 38,2
2 14,2 14,8 12,6 14,5
3 14,5 14,8 13,7 14,3
4 8,8 8,4 9,4 9,6
5 or more 28,6 28,8 30,0 23,3
Total 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0

Source: IDEA Consult sur base de l’enquête

On a one year period, three temporary workers on four are hiring-out to a user entreprise by only one TW agency while two third of the temporary workers are registrered in more than one agency. Less than 8 % of the workers are hired out by more than two agencies.

  Total (%) Flanders (%) Wallonia (%) Brussels (%)
1 74,7 72,1 78,8 80,7
2 17,6 18,8 16,1 14,8
3 5,1 6,0 3,7 3,3
4 1,7 2,1 1,0 0,9
5 or more 0,9 1,0 0,4 0,3
Total 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0

Source: IDEA Consult sur la base du fichier du Fonds Social

In 2005, around 58% of temporary workers workerd in only one company, 30 % worked in two or three companies, 12% workerd in more than three companies. In Brussels, the percentage of temporary workers hired in more than 5 companies is higher than in the two other regions.

  Weighted total (%) Flanders (%) Wallonia (%) Brussels (%)
1 58,3 58,4 58,4 57,6
2 19,2 19,6 19,1 15,7
3 10,9 10,6 11,4 11,6
4 4,0 3,8 4,3 4,5
5 or more 7,6 7,6 6,8 10,6
Total 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0

Source: IDEA Consult sur base de l’enquête

b) duration of TAW placements, i.e. i.e. the length of assignment in a user company.

Length of the last assignment in a user company (2003)
Lenght of the mission Total Flanders Walloon region Brussels
# % # % # % # %
<1 month 445.4 34.0 145 33.6 154 34.5 163 36.1
1-2 months 133.3 10.2 42 9.7 48 10.8 56 12.4
2-4 months 265.2 20.3 93 21.6 81 18.2 69 15.3
4-6 months 146.9 11.2 47 10.9 56 12.5 45 9.9
6 Months to 1 year 204.0 15.6 68 15.8 68 15.3 68 15.0
>1 year 113.5 8.7 36 8.4 39 8.7 51 11.3
Total 1308.3 100.0 431 100.0 446 100.0 425 100.0

According to these data, most of the temporary workers have short missions of less than one month and a very few of them work in one company as a temps for more than a year.

2) Please provide any evidence from official, academic and social partner sources concerning:

a) the reasons for user companies’ usage of TAW, including any differences by sector, occupation, firm size etc.

Percentage of companies using temporary workers and for which a specific reason is important

Percentage of companies using temporary workers and for which a specific reason is important

note: in blue: blue-collars and in red: white-collars.

Source: .STV Innovatie en Arbeid: 'Uitzendarbeid in de Vlaamse industrie: inzet en ontwikkelingen', Brussels, July 2001.

Source : STV Innovatie en Arbeid: 'Uitzendarbeid en flexibiliteit in de dienstensector', Brussels, december 2004.

replacement hire new staff peaks
Total 48,4% 43,2% 47,0%
Sector Tradel, Horeca no significant statistical differences 45,8% no significant statistical differences
Transport, post 51,0%
Business Services 39,3%
Personal Services 20,7%

Another study from 1996 includes: staff replacement, peaks of production, research for permanent staff, to increase the staff without any offer of permanent contract, flexibility…

b) reasons for workers participation in the sector and levels of satisfaction, including any differences by age, sex, education etc.

Reasons for workers participation in the sector (number of workers on 2500)

Reasons for workers participation in the sector (number of workers on 2500)

Source: IDEA Consult 2000.

3) In practice, which rules and procedures may apply to temporary-agency workers in contrast to other workers in the user company?

Legally, temporary agency workers have the same rights than other workers in terms of salary, working conditions and working time.

In terms of consultation and representation of the workers, we saw legally it was possible to establish a trade union delegation near the temporary work agency but that in practice it was difficult to organize because of the temporary character of the jobs. Temporary workers are thus represented through the trade union delegation of the user company.

To know the differences that exist between what exist in law and what is effectively practiced, a research was realized on the main claims that temporary workers could express towards their jobs. (SOBEMAP 1996).

Beyond the temporary character of the job, the workers claim too small wages (11%) or contracts with a too short term (11%).

Most of the claims near the mediator are the following: (Jacquemyns 1999; European Foundation 2002)

• non payment of a bank holiday

• late payments

• non payment of the salary in case of illness

• late to declare work accidents

Section 5. The extent and composition of TAW.

1) For 2004 and 2007, please state

a) the number of agency workers


Note: no data for 2007

b) total revenues of the TAW sector

In 2007, Federgon announced the total revenues of the sector of 4.176 billions while in 2004, the total revenues were of 3.089 billions.

Following, the revenues evolution of the sector from 1986 to 2007 and annual growth.

Source: Federgon 2007

2) What proportion of the TAW workforce is currently

  Men Women Total
Blue-collar 43.5% 18.2% 61.7%
White-collar 14.5% 23.8% 38.3%
  58.0% 42.0%  

o Younger workers (< 21 years and 21-25 years) form an important groups of temporary workers but thie number of Young people are currently increasing because they include an increasing number of students registred for summer or student jobs.

o People of more than 45 years old are also increasing.

<21 7.7%
21-25 29.7%
26-30 20.4%
31-45 31.5%
>45 10.8
Total 100%

Source: Federgon (

3) Has there been any changes to the TAW sector in terms of

a) concentration, i.e. proportion of employees or turnover accounted for by the largest firms?

No data available

b) internationalisation, i.e. number/significance of multinational TAW firms?

No data available

4) What is your evaluation of the availability and quality of statistical data concerning TAW in your country?

Most of statistical data are realized by the employers’ federation of TW agencies, Federgon. However, we can not doubt of the accuracy of these data that are besides recognized by the trade unions.

Commentary by the NC

The temporary work agency sector is since the last decade a booming sector with an increasing number of temporary workers and of temporary work agencies.

In Belgium, the sector is highly regulated while it allows a great flexibility for the employers as well as for the workers. Because of the efficiency of these rules, the Belgian social partners, trade unions and employers, promote and encourage the settlement of a common regulated TAW sector all around Europe.

Delbar, C. and Léonard, E. (2002), “Le travail intérimaire”, Courrier hebdomadaire du Crisp, n°1778.

European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2002), Le travail intérimaire: rapport national. Belgique, Eurofound, Dublin.

Idea Consult (2006), Les intérimaires et l’emploi en 2006: étude de profil, Federgon..

Idea Consult (2003), Les intérimaires et leur employ en 2003: etude de profil, Federgon.

Jacquemyns, A. (1999), Rapport annuel. Médiateur pour les travailleurs intérimaires, 1er avril 1998- 31 mars 1999. Bruxelles: UPEDI, Union professionnelle des Entreprises de Travail intérimaire.

SPF Emploi, travail et concertation sociale/ FO Werkgelegenheid, Arbeid en Sociaal Overleg (

STV innovatie en arbeid: ‘Uitzendarbeid in de Vlaamse industrie: inzet en ontwikkelingen’, Brussels, July 2001

STV Innovatie en Arbeid: ‘Uitzendarbeid en flexibiliteit in de dienstsector’, Brussels, December 2004.

Emmanuelle Perin, Institute for Labour Studies, Université Catholique de Louvain.

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