Unemployment figure falls below 300,000 for the first time since 1977

Unemployment figure falls below 300,000 for the first time since 1977
Credit: Belga

The number of fully unemployed jobseekers receiving benefits (CCI-DE) in Belgium fell below the 300,000 mark last year, for the first time since 1977, according to the annual report of the national employment office, ONEM, presented on Thursday.

The number of CCI-DEs went down in each of the three regions: -13.7% in Flanders, -6.4% in Wallonia and -6.7% in Brussels. “This important milestone is very good news for employment,” ONEM Director-General Jean-Marc Vandenbergh said at the start of the presentation.

Last year, the number of temporarily unemployed workers was 486,071, compared to 756,699 in 2021 (-35.8%).

Mixed year for temporary unemployment

About 1.22 million workers had received temporary unemployment benefits in 2020. Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were just under 100,000 temporary unemployed persons in Belgium.

“The number of people on temporary unemployment remained very high compared to the pre-Corona years,” Vandenbergh said. “The scheme continued to work and performed its protective function perfectly in the face of the energy crisis exacerbated by the geopolitical tensions surrounding the conflict in Ukraine.

ÖNEM notes that 2022 was a “mixed” year for temporary unemployment. Overall, the agency saw an average drop of 45.5% in physical units (payments per month) and a 62.4% decrease in budget units (full-time equivalents). The average daily amount, on the other hand, increased, “influenced among other things by indexation,” the institution points out.

As in 2021, the main reason for temporary unemployment in 2022 was the health crisis and the force majeure it represented.

Drop in unemployment due to force majeure

Temporary unemployment for force majeure nevertheless declined (68.3% in 2022 compared with 93.9% in 2021) in favour of temporary unemployment for economic reasons (18.2% in 2022 compared with 0% in 2021).

In 2022, the agency counted an average of 291,694 fully compensated unemployed jobseekers each month, a 9.3% drop compared to 2021. The number of unemployed people had not fallen below 300,000 since the second oil crisis, ONEM said.

The biggest decreases are in short-term unemployment – lasting one to two years – (-30.3%), unemployment in the under-25 age group (-15.3%) and unemployment among unskilled workers (-10.4%).

On the budgetary side, the various crises (health and energy) have left significant marks. Since 2020, the total financial impact of the crises has amounted to €7.1 billion  (about €4.7 billion in 2020 and €2 billion in 2021). Actual expenditure will eventually have been 8.19 billion in 2021 and 6.67 billion in 2022.

Impact of the war in Ukraine

ONEM also noted that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has had a marked impact on the Belgian labour market.

The number of Ukrainians entering the job market has risen sharply since the start of the war. At the end of 2022, it was about 30 times higher than at the beginning of the year (3,000 compared to 100 in January 2022). Last December, Russians and Ukrainians accounted for 4.3% of all unpaid jobseekers, compared to 0.7% at the start of this year.

In 2022, 553,695 applications for career breaks, time credits and thematic leave were submitted to ONEM, 12% more than in 2021. This increase was mainly due to the fact that, since 1 July 2019, workers can interrupt their careers for shorter periods ito take parental leave and medical assistance.

With regard to this increase, there were some notable changes: thematic leave, for example, rose sharply in 2022 (+9%), mainly for parental leave. Leave for medical assistance and leave for close caregivers also increased.

Sharp drop in career breaks

Time credit applied in the private sector decreased by 20.3% in five years, the agency observed. Career breaks in the public sector fell even more sharply, to 37.2% in five years. “This decrease is partly the result of regulatory changes in 2012 that limited the age requirements in the end-of-career scheme,” ONEM explained.

In the past year, ONEM’s company closure fund recorded 9,902 workers compensated, 2,925 bankruptcies with staff and 17,524 job losses.

Finally, as it does every year, ONEM carried out verifications. Checks with data cross-referencing (data matching and datamining) decreased: 49,029 were carried out in 2022 (compared to 66,804 in 2021) and 22,387 infringements were identified (compared to 32,660 in 2021).

Field checks were also carried out: 47,194 (46,383 in 2021) for 11,852 offences, up from 13,308 in 2021.

Copyright © 2021 The Brussels Times. All Rights Reserved.