Brussels faces post-pandemic 'social emergency' for employment

Brussels faces post-pandemic 'social emergency' for employment
Workers without a social safety net, such as students, delivery staff, and freelancers, flex workers faced employment insecurities. Credit: Canva

As a result of the Covid pandemic, inequalities have increased in Belgium, and Brussels employees have been affected the harshest by raging unemployment during and after the crisis.

A study by the General Labour Federation of Belgium (FGBT) shows that, compared to Flanders and Wallonia, Brussels has suffered from high unemployment. Those who telework in and around the capital are the only ones who have not lost any purchasing power.

The study compares how different employees throughout the country have been affected by the health crisis by dividing the workforce into four categories: teleworkers, essential workers, people in employment without social protection and those who are temporarily unemployed.

Essential workers

82% of the essential workers, such as supermarket cashiers, nurses and care assistants in nursing homes, are women. In the cleaning and food trade sectors, 78% and 62% of them receive a gross salary of less than €100 per day.

“It was said that the post-pandemic world would not be like the one before Covid. But it is in vain that we seek to revalue and fairly compensate those types of jobs,” FGBT general secretary Estelle Ceulemans said.

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No social safety net

Workers without a social safety net, such as students, delivery staff, freelancers, flex workers and even artists, are next. For more than 50% of working students, their job is essential to survive. Without social security, workers of this category suffered the effects of the pandemic.

While it is impossible to assess their loss of income, the many calls for help directed towards the Public Centre for Social Welfare (CPAS) are an indicator of the hardship faced by people lacking a social safety net.

Compared to December 2019, Brussels saw a growth of nearly 10% in the number of integration revenues allocated. That percentage steeply surpasses the 0.6% in Wallonia and 2.3% in Flanders.

Loss of purchasing power

The temporary unemployed, the last category of workers, were said to have retained 100% of their purchasing power. However, the report notes a 29% loss in net salary for women and 21% for men. Once again, Brussels is paying the highest price.

At the end of the first quarter of 2020, almost half of Brussels employees were temporarily unemployed. In Wallonia, that was only 18%, while it was 23% in Flanders. A year later, the gap between the three regions remains virtually unchanged.

The study also illustrates the precariousness in progress before the pandemic. In fact, the Covid-19 crisis was merely an aggravating factor, the FGTB emphasises.

“Between 2014 and 2019, the fall in the unemployment rate did not occur for workers aged between 25 and 49. The number of people with jobs increased, but the percentage remained stagnant,” Estelle Ceulemans explains.

For the trade union, the conclusion is clear: Brussels is experiencing a social emergency.

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