Local employment agencies, Belgium

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Country: 
Belgium
Sectors: 
Agriculture and fishingHotel restaurant and cateringMaintenance and cleaningPublic sector
Target Groups: 
employers/purchasers

 

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.

 

Background

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).

Objectives

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.

Specific measures

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.

Actors involved

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).

Lessons learned

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.

Impact indicators




Table 1: Number of people who have a contract with a local employment agency, 2000–2010
Year Men Women Total
2000 6,384 31,570 37,954
2001 6,213 31,466 37,679
2002 6,605 31,913 38,518
2003 7,128 33,640 40,768
2004 7,767 32,960 40,727
2005 7,734 26,811 34,545
2006 7,533 22,358 29,891
2007 7,271 19,180 26,451
2008 6,712 16,586 23,298
2009 6,364 14,191 20,555
2010 6,099 12,665 18,764

Source: Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour and Social Concertation




Table 2: Number of hours worked through the local employment agencies, 2000–2009
Year Men Women Total
2000 191,065 943,606 1,134,671
2001 187,895 957,430 1,145,325
2002 2,434,989 11,740,191 14,175,180
2003 2,650,571 12,367,414 15,017,985
2004 2,896,335 12,229,319 15,125,654
2005 2,847,102 9,883,513 12,730,615
2006 2,788,016 8,249,432 11,037,448
2007 2,759,665 7,230,715 9,990,380
2008 2,624,768 6,458,841 9,083,609
2009 2,519,444 5,608,176 8,127,620

Source: Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour and Social Concertation

Transferability

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.

Contacts

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

Bibliography

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

 

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