Employment and unemployment

Overall, the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the Belgian labour market in 2020 remains limited

Work & training
Overall, the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the Belgian labour market in 2020 remains limited

Greater impact for some subgroups

New results of the Labour Force Survey in Belgium

Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, publishes today the results of the Labour Force Survey for 2020. A year where Belgium, just like the rest of the world, was hit hard by the coronavirus. The government adopted various support measures, such as the temporary unemployment system and the bridging right for the self-employed. In this publication with the annual figures from the Labour Force Survey, we examine the impact of the coronavirus crisis and the measures on some key indicators in five larger conclusions.

First conclusion: the overall impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the general population remains limited. The number of persons employed decreased by 29,000 (-0.6 %) between 2019 and 2020. The employment rate of people aged 15-64 decreased from 65.3 % in 2019 to 64.7 % in 2020. Furthermore, the number of unemployed persons increased by 8,800 (+3.2 %). The unemployment rate of people aged 15-64 slightly increased from 5.4 % in 2019 to 5.6 % in 2020.

Second conclusion: the evolution of the labour market situation is worse for some subgroups than for others. The number of persons employed decreases mainly among certain more vulnerable groups on the labour market, such as young people, low-skilled and medium-skilled people and people with a non-EU nationality.

Third conclusion: there is a striking surge in the number of unemployed persons among people with a diploma of higher education (+13.8 %). This group of highly-skilled people is not usually seen as vulnerable. Statbel notes that in 2020 there were more highly-skilled people who entered the labour market compared to the other years. Therefore, both the number of employed and the number of unemployed with a diploma of higher education increase sharply.

Fourth conclusion: working hours decrease sharply. In 2020, more than one person out of four (28.2 %) in the working population said they worked less than usual or did not work at all during the reference week for which they were interviewed. In 2019, this was one person out of five (20.6 %).

Fifth conclusion: part-time and temporary jobs, jobs in the ‘horeca’ sector and jobs with low qualifications in elementary occupations (such as office cleaners, domestic helpers and freight handlers) were particularly affected. There is a clear decrease in the number of employees with temporary jobs (-7.8 %), while the number of self-employed increases (+2.9 %). The number of persons employed in part-time jobs decreased by -2.5 %, while the number of full-time jobs stabilises. The ‘horeca’ sector is the most affected sector (-13.7 % of persons employed). ‘Elementary occupations’, such as office cleaners, domestic helpers and freight handlers, were also affected (-7.7 %), followed by ‘Service and sales workers’ (-5.9 %).

Table 1

Employment rate, unemployment rate and activity rate by gender for Belgium and the regions, last 4 quarters

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Table 2

Definitions regarding employment and unemployment

The survey is harmonised at European level. The definitions regarding employment and unemployment that are mentioned are those of the International Labour Office (ILO) to allow international comparison.

  • People with a job (employed people) comprise all people who during the reference week performed some work ‘for wage or salary’ or ‘for profit’ regardless of the duration (even if this was only one hour), or who had a job but were temporarily absent. For example, one can be temporarily absent for holidays, illness, technical or economic reasons (temporary unemployment),....

Family workers are also included in the category ‘employed’.

Since 2021, people who have been temporarily unemployed for an uninterrupted period of more than three months are counted as unemployed or inactive, and no longer as employed.

  • The unemployed comprise all people who:

(a) during the reference week were without work, i.e. were not in paid employment or self-employment;

(b) were available for work, i.e. were available for paid employment or self-employment within two weeks after the reference week;

(c) were actively seeking work, i.e. had taken specific steps during the last four weeks including the reference week to seek paid employment or self-employment, or who had found a job to start within a maximum period of three months.

Please note: The ILO unemployment figures are unrelated to any possible registration with the VDAB, Actiris, FOREM or the ADG, or to the receipt of unemployment benefits from ONEM (National Employment Office). As a result, they cannot be compared with administrative unemployment figures.

  • The labour force is made up of the employed and the unemployed.
  • The economically inactive population comprises all people who were not considered as employed or unemployed.
  • The employment rate represents employed persons as a percentage of the same age population. 
  • The employment rate as part of the Europe 2020 Strategy represents the share of persons employed in the population aged 20 to 64. 
  • The unemployment rate represents the share of unemployed people in the labour force (employed + unemployed) within a given age group.
  • The economic activity rate represents the share of the labour force (employed + unemployed) in the total population within a given age group.

The above indicators (employment rate, unemployment rate and economic activity rate) are the most important indicators for international comparisons of the labour market evolution.



LFS : Methodological improvements of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) 2017 (PDF, 97 Kb)