Employment contracts in Belgium, whether in writing or by verbal agreement, are governed by strict labour laws, royal decrees, regional decrees, collective labour agreements, work regulations and the rules created in individual labour contracts. The central source of the law of employment contract (LEC) is the Act of 3rd July 1978.
Types of employment contracts in Belgium
The LEC divides employment contracts into five contracts: Wage-earner, covering those working for daily or hourly rates White collar, covering those with office jobs Blue collar, covering those that work with manual labour Commercial traveller, covering sales work Domestic servants, covering those that do housework Work permits are required for any employee not from the European Union or from Bulgaria or Romania, two new Member States of the European Union not yet given equal stats by Belgian labour law. Individuals working as self-employed professionals in Belgium are required to apply for a professional card unless they are from the EU or Switzerland. Contracts are either determined (for a determined length of time) or undetermined (for an undetermined length of time). If a series of determined labour contracts are renewed, then the contract becomes an undetermined contract.
Determined contracts and the probation period
Determined contracts imply a probation period. For blue collar workers, the probation period is between seven to 14 days. For white collar workers, the probation period must be more than one month and can only last up to six months unless the contract specifies otherwise. During the probation period, employees and employers can terminate the contract with only a week's notice. After the probation period is over, termination of an employment contract becomes more difficult.
Contract termination after the probation period
It is not easy to end a determined employment contract in Belgium after the probation period. There are very detailed rules for different terminations after the probation period. Employers must notify employees of a termination by registered mail or through a bailiff. If a white-collar employee's contract is terminated, the employer must pay up to three month's salary in addition to a severance package. However, if the termination is due to economic concerns on the part of the company and is not due to problems in the employer-employee relationship, the employee may be required to work for a determined period of time after being let go, receiving one day off a week to look for new employment. If an employee secures new employment at the same level and salary as the job that was lost, this can decrease the severance fee demanded from the employer. Collective redundancy can be particularly expensive as employers must pay special compensation -- up to 50 per cent of the difference between unemployment benefits and the usual net income of the employee.
Employee protection and representation in Belgium
Employees are represented by a local trade union chapter, the Works Council, and the Committee for Prevention and Protection. The Works Council is locally formed and supported, but does belong to a larger national network of Work Councils. If a company has more than 100 employees, then employees must elect representatives to the Works Council, which offers employees advice and information about company operations. If a company has more than 50 employees, then the employer must appoint a Health and Safety adviser and the employees must elect employment representatives to the Committee for Prevention and Protection.
Employee holidays and pay in Belgium
Employers are also required to provide holiday pay. Holiday pay for white-collar employees is one twelfth of 92 per cent of the gross monthly salary times the number of months worked in the year preceding the holiday. For blue collar and other manual employees, holiday pay is 8 per cent of 108 per cent of the gross wages for the preceding year plus 7.83 per cent of 108 per cent of the monthly gross wages. A Belgian employee is entitled to up to 20 days of holiday a year if the employee works 5 days a week. Belgian employees also receive the national holidays and if a national holiday falls on a weekend, the employees are entitled to the next work day off.
Additional benefits for employees and the self-employed
Taxes on employment contracts in Belgium are high for both the employer and the employee, who must pay the National Office of Social Security. Due to the high taxes on an employee's 'brut' or gross salary, many employers pay a lower gross salary and compensate employees through meal tickets and other benefits. Individuals that are self-employed compensate for high taxes through declaring anything related to the cost of their business (transportation, dinners with clients, office equipment etc.).