Foreigners working in Belgium: who are they and are measures needed? Author: Michaël Torfs

Belga
Fri 17/02/2017 - 13:35 Michaël Torfs The number of foreigners moving to Belgium to work here on a temporary basis, has doubled in 5 years' time. The majority of posted workers are from neighbouring countries - with East-Europeans forming a minority - and they come here for their expertise and not because of tax reasons, it turns out.

Employment Minister Kris Peeters and the State Secretary for the Battle against Fraud, Philippe De Backer (photo), do not want to make the rules more stringent without doing some decent thinking and research on the issue first.

The Flemish nationalists of N-VA have called for stricter rules (contracts of maximum 6 months instead of 2 years) e.g. in the building sector because East-European workers there prove a lot cheaper (they have to be paid a Belgian wage, but employers only have to comply with social security standards from their country of origin, which makes them cheaper). This is triggering unfair competition for companies working with Belgians, but Peeters (Christian democrat) and De Backer (liberal) don't want to go too fast.

160,000 posted workers in 2014, mostly from neighbouring countries

Moreover, it now turns out that, contrary to what many are thinking, that East-Europeans don't make up the majority of posted workers in Belgium. Figures from 2014 show that 57.6 percent of them comes from neighbouring countries (Netherlands, France, Germany, Luxembourg), while only 22.1 percent comes from Romania, Poland or Slovenia. There were almost 160,000 posted workers that year.

Most employees from neighbouring countries work in the chemical or the metal sector and are usually high-skilled. There is hardly unfair competition due to lower social security standards. Moreover, our businesses need them, experts underline.

De Backer says that checks focus on the transport and building sector, where there is a problem indeed, he admits. "However, our clampdown on fraud has made sure that 2,000 extra Belgian jobs were created", he explains. Kris Peeters also points out that "we shouldn't forget that there are a lot of Belgian companies posting workers abroad as well."