Tag Archives: employment

By Yasmine Lingmann

Business closures. Curfews. Social gatherings controlled. Face masks. Zoom fatigue. These are just a few of the consequences we are all having to accept in this never-ending Corona driven mess. But students are arguably one of the worst affected groups for two main reasons: they are the least likely to experience anything but mild symptoms, and these measures are therefore sacrificial; and the crucial opportunities and experiences needed for students to thrive and pave their way in the competitive world we live in are being snatched beneath our eyes- deteriorating the nations’ future workforce and economy.

I started working for the British Chamber of Commerce in July, right in the midst of it all, in a team of 6 student interns on our Erasmus year abroad as part of our university degree. Our interviews were held online during lockdown, with hopes that things would soon resume back to normal so that we could move to Brussels for the year. It’s now our third month of working remotely, having only met our colleagues virtually. This being said, we are lucky. As a team we have managed to get on despite only meeting online, and our colleagues have been nothing but accommodating and understanding. Many of our friends at university have had their year abroad cancelled altogether, or are unable to work remotely; having to settle for online learning courses that do not in any way make up for the loss of their Erasmus plans. Not only this- many of us are unable to receive the grant we have been promised, leaving students with little money to make the most of the year. Everything we had hoped for- exploring a new city, developing our foreign language skills, networking with professionals and learning from watching colleagues at work- has been taken away from us.

British students are paying the same price this year for worse educational development, economic prospects and social progression. With freshers struggling to settle in their new environments and unable to socialise: mental and physical health are at risk. This is the cohort that has already undergone significant hardship: they missed their last few months of school or college, were unable to sit their exams, and, many of whom were allocated A-level grades that in some cases bore no resemblance to what they had been predicted. University students have already been home from university since March and lost lecture hours due to teacher strikes throughout the year. Although the physical health of students is at low risk from Covid-19, their emotional, educational and economic wellbeing have been jeopardised more than any other age group’s.

The impacts this will have on the wider society are huge. In terms of domestic students, Resolution Foundation has revealed that more than a third of 18-24 year olds have been furloughed or lost their main job since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Employers are seeking 32% fewer entrants on apprentice or school leaver programmes than originally planned for this year, while graduate jobs have been cut by 12%. Internships and placements will also slump by 40%. There are already half a million young people unemployed and more than a million displaced from sectors most affected by Covid-19. The Institute for Employment Studies think that that in the medium term youth unemployment could exceed 2 million. A wide range of research suggests that spending more than six months unemployed at this age can have a significant long-term impact on their careers. Organisations such as Youth Employment UK are fighting to address the consequences Covid-19 will have on the wages and job prospects of ‘Corona Class of 2020’.

International students have been deeply impacted, too. This is significantly problematic given that in 2018/19 teaching of overseas students generated an estimated surplus of £1.7 billion or 43% in England and Northern Ireland combined, home student numbers have remained relatively static. China is by far the largest source of international students with just over 120,000 in 2018/19. Travel restrictions, as well as virtual lessons causing many students to defer or drop out, have caused a large fall in demand for British higher education from overseas. The short term and long term income generated by higher education to the national economy will continue to fall if changes are not made.

This being said- businesses are responding. According to a study done be LSE in July 2020, over 60% of firms adopted new digital technologies and management practices; and around a third invested in new digital capabilities. These process and product innovations are generally considered to have had a positive impact on performance, and businesses expect to maintain them post-crisis. This ‘Virtual Revolution’ offers many opportunities to technology prone students and according to most firms, will increase employee productivity rather than reduce the need for employees over time. Therefore, students can and should continue to be offered opportunities, and businesses will actually save more by doing so.

The Coronavirus Cohort will gain the strength and drive that businesses seek in their employees. This disruption will create new opportunities: a generation of students that have no choice but to adapt and innovate. Firms will need to give a helping hand to students through internships and work experience in order to get the economy back on track- but this effort is guaranteed to pay for itself for many years to come.

Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. 
We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period. Click here to register:

By Yasmine Lingemann

Belgians are big savers. According to recent figures released by the National Bank of Belgium (BNB), Belgians have reached a record high in average household savings, with figures reaching 290 billion euros in aggregate regulated savings accounts. On average, the household savings ratio in Belgium is 12.6%, which by comparison is just over double that of the UK, where households save 6.2% of their disposable income. Belgians have traditionally saved a lot, yet even in an era of zero or negative interest rates on savings, the lack of spending is beginning to become problematic and even a hinderance to the national economy.

Globally, the Coronavirus pandemic has hurt economies everywhere. With firms in the UK and Europe also having to simultaneously adapt and create contingency plans to prepare for the end of the Brexit transition, businesses face the situation where they need to use alternative methods to attract clients and re-establish confidence in their company. In Belgium, that means trying to encourage people to spend more and save less at the same time as rising unemployment, weakening job security, and people generally tightening their belts and restricting spending to the bare necessities.

Despite this, firms must not lose hope: Now is the time to seek new opportunities. Businesses are responding, many are offering their goods and services in a different way. In Belgium, where consumers have traditionally been less open to online commerce, increased time at home in front of a screen enables households to be more susceptible to e-commerce and advertising. Businesses must use this time to improve communication and dialogue with their clients to reestablish trust and retain brand loyalty. Getting active online and keeping your customer base up to date on changes will help businesses in the long run and hasten the adoption of a more digitalised economy.

Belgium government support has not been as forthcoming as in the UK. However there are a variety of loans and tax deferral schemes that have been put in place to weaken the damage felt by Belgian firms.

Click here for Belgium’s government website to see how your business can benefit from the support available:

Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period.

See our website here for more details on how we can help you:

Hugues Thibaut

Hugues Thibaut, International Affairs Manager at Group S, has been talking to Radio X about employment conditions in Belgium ahead of the British Chamber’s Expat Financial Affairs exhibition in October. You can listen to Hugues’ full interview with Radio X here.

Hugues, what sort of services does Group S generally provide?

We are free of charge contact point for people who have just arrived in Brussels and are not sure of whether they want to become self-employed, open up their own business or hire people. We will advise them on what to do and what formalities are needed to work here.

As part of the so-called EU directive on Services for all the EU countries, we represent a single point of contact for foreigners in Belgium.

For someone who might not be familiar with being self-employed in Belgium, are there any particular things that are differing from other countries that people should know?  

It is actually quite cheap to become self-employed and it can be done within 24 hours. We just need a copy of your diploma and 85 Euros, and you can start tomorrow! Very often I hear from expats “Well, Belgium is so complicated!” and it might be true, but it’s changing and I think it is going in the right direction.

If you are a self-employed person, how does it work in terms of your contribution towards the social security system?

Every quarter you have to pay social contributions, which is based on your assessment of what will be your income. Of course, when you’re starting, you have no idea what your income will be, and I do have to say that it is difficult for newcomers in Belgium. The advice that we give is that you should hire an accountant to help you assess your earnings. Similarly, if you work as an employee in Belgium under an employment contract, you can become self-employed as long as it is a secondary activity. You have your fixed source of income working as an employee and you can develop your own business. In this case, you will pay fewer social contributions.

Is it less favourable to become self-employed than being an employee in Belgium then?

Well it’s changing, but if you work as an employee under an employment contract, then you have full protection. That is why many people are a bit scared of self-employment. For the self-employed, it is a must to have supplementary insurances on top of the social protection and that can sometimes be a deterrent. But as a self-employed, you’re a less expansive because no employer social contribution have to be paid.

When you’ve built a solid business and taken it to the next level and started employing people, what kind of advice would you give on employment conditions?

Setting a competitive salary package that comes with benefits is key. In Belgium we are very creative with this issue precisely because the income taxes are so high. If you offset certain conditions, the employee won’t be taxed on those benefits and the employer won’t pay the social contribution, so it’s very much a win-win situation. Also, as a new employer in Belgium, you will benefit from considerable social reductions. If you’re here in Belgium for the first time, regardless of what you do and your company’s size, you’ll get reduction for the first five employees.

What can we expect to hear from you during your session at Expat Financial Affairs?

A lot of expats don’t understand their pay slip, so we are going to explain the gross salary, what social contributions have to be paid as an employee, and how the income tax is calculated depending on your civil status. For some expats it’s a bit weird to give that kind of private information to your employer, but the employer is obliged to inform the payroll  provider in order to calculate the correct income tax. We’ll also explain how much an employee actually costs an employer on a monthly basis or yearly basis, and how you are de facto paid 14 months’ salary in a year, instead of the 12 you might assume!

If you would like to get personalised expert advice on a variety of areas relevant to your big life decisions as an expat in Belgium, please visit our Expat Financial Affairs website and register to join us on the 3rd of October at Vlerick Business School, Brussels. Sign up already now, and we will keep you updated on the event programme as it gets published and help you prepare for your visit in the best way possible.

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