Appreciated by professionals for its many advantages (financial transparency, flexibility and administrative simplicity), wage portage is an excellent way to launch an independent business in complete security. Wage portage is growing in popularity in many countries, including Belgium, where the expanding job market has led to the emergence of organizational models tailored to the needs and aspirations for the independence and financial security of individual workers, such as consultants and freelancers. 

An overview of the local Belgian job market

Despite the health crisis of recent years, the Belgian job market is in good shape. The COVID-19 pandemic brought many industries to a standstill and disrupted the economies of countries around the world. Today, the gradual recovery in activity has enabled the labor market to slowly pick up again.

As far as the number and types of professions, it is fair to say that Belgium is a service-oriented country. The service sector accounts for around 69% of Belgium’s GDP.

The main employers in this field are:

  • Retail and distribution, with the presence of major groups (Carrefour, Delhaize, Colruyt, etc.);
  • Transportation;
  • Hotels and restaurants;
  • Public administration;
  • Teaching;
  • Financial companies: traditional banks and neo banks;
  • Services for businesses (cleaning, equipment and machinery maintenance, technical assistance, consulting, etc.) and individuals (domestic help, gardening, childcare, etc.).

Belgium’s secondary sector is mainly made up of large companies and groups, including multinationals such as Volvo Cars in Ghent and the Brussels region, Audi in Forest, and Arcelor Mittal (specializing in steel) in Wallonia.

It is important to note that the federal government’s role is to define the growth strategy for the employment and solidarity sectors. The federal government also strives to guarantee equal rights and opportunities in the workplace.

The distribution of the workforce across the country is somewhat uneven, with most jobs and job openings concentrated in the Brussels-Capital Region. Many of the workers in this area come from Flanders and Wallonia. In fact, in Belgium, it is common to work in a city and not in your hometown.

Working in Belgium: accessible statuses

Three main statuses are available to workers in Belgium. Depending on their situation, vocation, motivations, needs and objectives, they can work as:

  • Civil servants (in the administration): positions are available in administrative offices and public services. Employers include the federal state, regions, provinces, municipalities and communities. Workers can opt for a « statutory » job (open to Belgians and citizens of a state in the European Economic Area or the Swiss Confederation) or a « contractual » job on a permanent or temporary contract (somewhat like salaried employment, open to all except in certain sensitive areas).
  • Company employees: in Belgium, the employment contract must specify the actual details of the activity (position and assignments), the salary and the supervisory relationship between the employer and the employee.
  • Independent workers: professionals work on their account, doing assignments for clients who pay them directly. Independent workers must fulfill their tax obligations (declaring their activities and paying VAT and other taxes relating to their activities, registering with the Trade and Companies Register, obtaining a company number and joining the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises, etc.). Independent workers in Belgium must also open a dedicated bank account for their activity, keep their own accounts and join a social security fund. This status is gaining ground in Belgium and has even contributed somewhat to the post-COVID economic recovery, since self-entrepreneurship is now encouraged. Independent workers can set up a micro-business or become ported employees. Wage portage, another fast-growing form of work, is a way for professionals (consultants and freelancers) to become immediately operational while enjoying the status and benefits of an employee.

How do you find clients and get assignments in Belgium?

Finding clients and assignments is a major part of a freelancer’s work. Although many companies are eager to recruit freelancers for a variety of reasons (seeking new skills, flexible employment contracts, cost savings, etc.), it’s not always easy to find assignments that match your expertise.

Registering on freelancing platforms is therefore the best solution for consultants who are looking for clients and assignments. These specialized websites put companies and freelancers in touch with each other, and also invoice clients and collect payments from them. In return for these services, they deduct commissions from the income earned by the freelancer.

However, to maximize your opportunities, you need to make your profile attractive by highlighting your technical skills, your achievements and client references.

Is failure to complete an assignment a valid reason for dismissal of a Belgian ported employee?

As mentioned above, independent workers can opt for wage portage while working in Belgium and benefit from the same social protection that salaried employees have.

Independent workers are then bound by certain rules placed on them by the portage company, such as the obligation to work on assignments to achieve a clearly defined goal.

However, failure to complete an assignment does not constitute a valid reason for the dismissal of a ported employee. The company must invoke a real and serious cause for dismissal. This must be determined by specific, objective factors, and have a real impact on the company’s business.

Starting as a ported employee in Belgium

Wage portage status is becoming increasingly popular in Belgium as an ideal alternative to entrepreneurship and salaried employment. It is based on a three-way relationship between the ported employee, the client for whom they are doing assignments, and the portage company with which the ported employee is affiliated.

The ported employee signs a temporary or permanent employment contract with the portage company, which in turn signs a service contract with the client company.

The portage company handles invoicing and payment collection, and pays a portion of the revenues to the ported employee after deduction of compulsory deductions and portage fees.

Ported employees are responsible for prospecting for their clients and are free to choose the assignments they like. Ported employees also set their rates. They enjoy a high degree of autonomy in their work, receive a regular salary (according to the frequency agreed with the portage company) and have access to the social benefits of salaried employment, such as social security coverage, unemployment and health insurance, pensions and vacations.

In Belgium, a new law passed by the Social Affairs Committee allows self-employed Belgians to receive sick pay retroactively from July 1, 2021. They now have a 14-day retroactive period in which to receive compensation in the event of illness or inability to work following an accident.