Since the elections of 26 May, all the new regional governments have been formed and the new coalition agreements presented. We have already published an Infoflash on the new policy announced in Brussels and Wallonia. Now, we deal with the new Flemish coalition agreement presented on 30 September, with a focus on measures for work and employment.
The labour market is under pressure due to the digital revolution, global competition, an ageing population, migration flows, etc., resulting in a growing mismatch between job offers and the profile of job-seekers. Policy of the new Flemish government will focus on closing this gap through two approaches: utilising labour potential and ensuring career security. The ambition is considerable: to create 120,000 additional jobs in the coming years and to increase the employment rate to 80%.
Utilising labour potential (approach 1)
Starting in 2021 work will become more attractive via the Flemish job bonus, in particular through a net benefit of:
- €600.00 per year for a full-time gross monthly salary of up to €1,700.00;
- an amount less than €600.00 per year for a full-time gross monthly salary of between €1,700.00 and €2,500.00, where the closer the monthly salary approaches €2,500.00 the smaller the job bonus.
For part-time and/or partial employment, the basic amount (€600.00 or less) is calculated based on the hours worked.
The exact impact on payroll administration is still uncertain, but it is a regional Flemish measure, so the settlement will be done through taxation and exclusively for employees residing in Flanders.
From 2021 at the latest, the criterion of distance to the labour market will be essential for the allocation of Flemish reductions in employer contributions. The traditional target groups (young people, older people and people with a work-limiting disability) will not disappear, but the focus must shift to individual tailor-made reductions. In the meantime, existing reductions are being phased out, also and above all as a budgetary measure. A first step is to raise the age limit for the reduction for older workers from 55 to 58 years of age.
The Flemish recruitment incentive for long-term job-seekers is included in the reform of target group reductions and will probably disappear in the long term.
Social benefits become dependent on the level of income and no longer on social status. From this point of view, people in a low-paid job (possibly partial employment) can enjoy benefits that were previously reserved for benefit recipients.
In the same philosophy, access to government services will depend on competences and the distance to the labour market, and no longer on social status. In this way, for example, free or low-cost training courses, which until now have been reserved for job-seekers entitled to benefits, will be accessible to low-income workers.
The coalition agreement launches a new ‘solicitation’ activation policy tailored to the job-seeker, based on his or her individual distance to the labour market:
- screening of the distance to the labour market within two months;
- within three months, binding agreements are made with job-seekers who are not self-sufficient about the steps to be taken, such as training, job application assignments, etc.;
- penalising job-seekers who do not actively seek work and/or do not comply with agreements – the procedure and duration of the penalties are shortened and made uniform;
- community service for job-seekers who actively seek employment but are not employed within two years;
- digital communication with job-seekers (via email, text message or VDAB’s ‘My Career’ tool) becomes the standard, and is made legally sound.
The labour reserve is expanded to include citizens of working age who are not working and who are not registered with the VDAB. A strategy is being developed to guide each target group of the labour reserve towards work.
Newcomers with employment prospects or who are eligible for integration come into a specific process, with compulsory registration with the VDAB within two months. Active cooperation in a path to work is made part of the integration programme.
Community service as established by the Flemish coalition agreement will be organised by the VDAB and local authorities. Once the latter is operational, the PWA (local employment agency) status will be incorporated into this as well.
For people on ZIV benefits (sickness and disability) there is a greater focus on gradual resumption of work:
- evaluation of possible reintegration with the current employer within three months after the start of the incapacity;
- start of a specific and mandatory reintegration process within five months after the start of the incapacity.
The availability of part-time employees with an income guarantee allowance is monitored more closely, in particular for accepting additional hours at the same place of employment.
The old employment measures DAC (third employment circuit) and GESCO (subsidised contractual workers) will be phased out by 2030.
Additional jobs are created in the social economy, and two circuits are used:
- further roll-out of collective customisation and harmonisation of the statutes so that all custom work companies are treated equally (for employer social security contributions, the former sheltered employment or sheltered workshops have not yet been brought on an equal footing);
- the roll-out of a new system of individual customisation, which will support ordinary employers if they employ target-group employees with a loss of return. The old SINE measure (payment of social benefits through to the employer) would be included in this reform.
Career security for everyone (approach 2)
Career security replaces job security, with a focus on lifelong learning. Job rotation is actively encouraged, as is the lending or sharing of employees between organisations.
Partners will be able to conclude IBO contracts (individual professional training) themselves, also within the temporary employment and service voucher sector.
Work-study programmes (‘dual learning’) will be rolled out further:
- in more strands in secondary education, in general secondary education (ASO), in higher education and in adult education;
- in due course, also for employees who wish to retrain.
Efforts will continue towards a better combination of work and private life via:
- flexible, affordable childcare tailored to working parents and with priority for working parents;
- encouraging employers to offer flexible working hours and working at home and teleworking;
- supporting flexible parental leave by providing employees with pro-rated incentive payments.
Discrimination is combated through awareness-raising, self-regulation of the sectors and targeted controls by the social inspectorate. Practical tests are not provided.
The Government of Flanders will negotiate with the federal government to arrive at a single system of thematic leaves for Flanders, applicable in the public and private sectors.
For implementation, see: the VDAB
In the terms of the coalition agreement, the VDAB becomes the “central, data-driven and results-oriented employment and career coordinator in Flanders”.
Deployment of the latest technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and blockchain should ensure the effectiveness of matching and career guidance. A few plans:
- an ‘open services’ platform on which information is exchanged with job-seekers, employees, employers and training institutions;
- real-time data exchange between education and the VDAB, so that certain young people are automatically registered as job-seekers.
The VDAB’s ‘My Career’ tool will be the digital career platform of every Fleming and will serve as:
- a passport with acquired competences and training taken;
- a personal portfolio for the inclusion and transfer of training entitlements and training incentives;
- a guide for the public and private training offer;
- a pro-active forum for raising awareness of career opportunities and risks in the labour market.
The VDAB’s services to employers will be technologically advanced, customer-oriented, personalised and administratively simple. A few key points:
- the enhanced provision of information tools on the services provided by the VDAB and on all support measures;
- close interaction with both SMEs and large businesses for putting up and filling vacancies;
- engaging employers for providing feedback to applicants;
- cooperation with sectoral employers’ organisations for the matching of competences across sectors;
- cooperation with sector funds in sectors with imminent disruption and/or reorientation of competences.
Just a little more patience... and reserve
The commitments set out in the coalition agreement are not specific in terms of content and timing, and here there is a need for adapted regulations.
Flanders is not homogeneously competent for a number of measures, for which the levers are at the federal level. Flanders is responsible for referral to the labour market, for example, but not for ‘employment’ as such. The implementation of various measures thus depends on federal policy and/or will be negotiated with the federal government.
- Flemish Coalition Agreement 2019-2024 dated 30 September 2019 (Government of Flanders Coalition Agreement | Flanders.be)