In Belgium, the minimum wage and the working hours are regulated by law and/or by collective labour agreements at sector level. The actual wage is part of a larger remuneration package received by the employee.
How the minimum wage is determined
In the Belgian private sector, minimum wages are not determined by law. In Belgium, as in some other countries, the applicable minimum wages are traditionally laid down in collective labour agreements (CLAs) (in French) that are agreed in joint committees (in French). These collective agreementsare usually declared generally binding by Royal Decree. They apply to everyone working in the sector.
If the sectoral collective agreement prescribes a minimum wage, the employee’s contract may not set a lower amount of pay, only a higher amount.
The minimum amounts prescribed in a collective labour agreement are gross amounts.
In order to determine the net pay, i.e. the amount actually received by the worker, payroll tax and the worker’s social security contributions must be deducted from their gross pay. By paying social security contributions, employees are entitled to income replacement benefits and supplementary benefits. Payroll tax is the tax deducted from an employee’s pay each month.
Guaranteed average minimum monthly income
The absolute lowest wage is the guaranteed average minimum monthly income set by the National Work Council (Nationale Arbeidsraad / NAR).
The guaranteed average minimum monthly income is not the same as the minimum monthly wage. This is because the guaranteed average minimum monthly income includes certain amounts that are paid out during the year. For example, an end-of-year bonus or thirteenth month is taken into account when checking whether the guaranteed average minimum monthly income has been complied with.
The NAR has concluded a number of collective agreements on minimum income. The texts of all these collective agreements together with their commentary can be found on the NAR website (in French).
Other important NAR collective agreements contain provisions on equal pay for women and men, the minimum wage for the disabled, the indices, etc.
Consult more information about the minimum wage on the page about wages on the FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue website (in French).
To find out the minimum wages laid down in the sectoral collective labour agreements, please consult the Minimum Wage Database on the FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue website (in French).
For important sectors datasheets are available on the wages page of FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue website (in French) to summarise the working conditions that have been declared universally applicable and have been agreed in sectoral collective agreements.
In Belgium, work arrangement is considered ‘normal’ without having any exemption clause, when:
- Working hours are limited to 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week (38 hours a week on an annual basis).
- The working week is from Monday to Saturday (at the latest).
- No work is carried out overnight (between 8.00 p.m. and 6.00 a.m.).
- Rest on public holidays is respected.
Any arrangement departing from this conventional system requires, in addition to an amendment of the terms of employment, the benefit of an exemption and possibly the following of different or supplementary procedures.
The length of each service may not be less than 3 hours. A service is understood to be a continuous period of work, possibly interrupted by a short break (lunch break, coffee break, etc.). It is possible to depart from the minimum of 3 hours per service in the cases provided for by the royal decree of 18 June 1990, such as where professional premises are being cleaned.
In cases not covered by this royal decree, exemption ay be provided through collective agreement concluded at sector or company level.
Working hours may not exceed 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week or a shorter period established as part of the reduction of working hours.
However, since 1 January 2003, all companies need to have their working week reduced to 38 hours. This is either an average working week to be observed over a reference period by the granting of days off in lieu, or an actual length of time which has to be observed each week.
The reduction of working hours
The normal limits to working hours of 8 hours and 40 hours may be reduced by various instruments. In general, this reduction is made by collective agreement, concluded either at sector level or at company level. However, it may be made through other legal instruments, such as the terms of employment or the individual employment contract.
Find more information on the page about working time and rest times on the FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue website (in French).
Pay and remuneration
A definition of pay for Belgium can be found in the Pay Protection Act of 1965. This is the money payable by the employer and to which employees are entitled based on their employment. The Act states: ‘The employer is prohibited from restricting in any way the employee’s freedom to dispose of his or her pay as he or she sees fit.’ To safeguard the freedom that employees have in disposing of their salary, the Act lays down mandatory rules regarding salary payment, deductions from an employee’s pay, attachment of earnings and transfer of funds.
This pay is part of a broader package of remuneration that employees can receive from their employers in Belgium. This broader package may include employee stock options as well as holiday pay (an additional payment for employees taking annual leave).
For employees in Belgium, there may be many or just a few different forms of remuneration. Specific tax or parafiscal rules often exist for the various forms. How much tax will be payable? How much will be payable as social security contributions? The amounts can vary depending on the type of pay or remuneration.
Just as in the rest of the world, the sector in which someone works and the position they hold are the determining factors governing how much they will earn in Belgium. Qualifications, the amount of responsibility, the number of people that an employee is responsible for, etc. all determine how much an employee earns in a certain position. Additionally, in some jobs you can get certain bonuses because you have to work at night or on Sundays or because you have to deal with certain risks in the course of your work (e.g. manual work), etc. Finally, the productivity and profitability of the sector or company will also determine the amount of your pay. The highest wages can be found for example in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, and the lowest in the hospitality industry and in tourism.
Embedded in collective negotiations
In principle, the amount ultimately received as pay is an element of individual negotiation and agreement between an employee and an employer. In practice, however, in Belgium this is strongly framed by collective agreements. These are negotiated collective labour agreements (CLAs) between one or more employers and the representatives of employees (the trade unions).
In the Belgian private sector, the pay agreements that are drawn up every 2 years in sectoral joint committees are very important. Joint committees are officially established consultative and negotiating bodies for each sector, where recognised social partners are represented. They are made up of an equal number of representatives of employer and employee organisations. These joint committees have as one of their main objectives the drawing up of collective agreements that impose rules and regulations on employment conditions in a particular sector (e.g. construction or healthcare).
These sectoral collective agreements determine what the minimum wage is for the majority of employees in the Belgian private sector. For this purpose, there are sectoral job classifications, pay scales, an indexation formula for adjusting wages to inflation and biannual agreements on future pay increases. If the sectoral collective agreement prescribes a minimum wage, the employee’s contract may not set a lower amount of pay, only a higher amount.
A statutory pay ceiling serves as framework
In Belgium, these pay negotiations and the amount of the resultant pay are capped by a pay ceiling that is laid down by law.
The pay ceiling is set every two years and determines the maximum amount by which wage costs are allowed to increase.
An Act of 1996 (most recently amended in 2017) provides the option of taking preventive action to ensure that pay rises in Belgium are in line with expected developments in Germany, the Netherlands and France, which are Belgium’s main trading partners. The pay ceiling acts as a kind of framework for the biennial pay consultations that take place in the sectors and in companies.
The Pay Ceiling Act ensures that sectoral indexations and bargaining increases are always guaranteed.
More information about the factors determining pay can be found on the pay ceiFPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue website (in French).
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