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Public employment in Belgium


  • P. Bisciari

    (National Bank of Belgium, Research Department)

  • B. Eugène

    (National Bank of Belgium, Research Department)

  • L. Van Meensel

    (National Bank of Belgium, Research Department)


The article is intended to contribute to the debate on public employment in Belgium by analysing the most coherent possible set of statistics on its development and characteristics. According to the national accounts definition, the general government sector employed just over 800,000 workers in 2007. The sector’s main employers are the Communities and Regions and local authorities, while the federal government and social security together account for only one-fifth. If the concept used is broader than general government, and includes heavily subsidised jobs (health, social work and service vouchers), public enterprises and market intermunicipal associations, there could be 1.4 million persons in public employment. Over the long term, the variations in public employment correspond to the major fluctuations in budgetary policy. Employment in the general government sector expanded particularly strongly during the 1970s. Following a period of virtual stabilisation from 1982 onwards, employment in the sector increased again between 1997 and 2007. The analysis reveals that this expansion was not uniform across the branches of activity. During the recent period, employment has declined in defence and in some federal government departments, such as FPS Finance. Conversely, growth has been particularly marked in transport and in administration, especially where those services come under the local authorities or some federal departments such as justice. All sub-sectors have shared in the employment growth recorded since 1995. Local authorities account for over 60 p.c. of that growth, and the Communities and Regions almost 30 p.c., the remaining 10 p.c. being due to increased employment at federal level, including social security. A more detailed analysis therefore focused on developments in the administration branch of activity at the level of both the local authorities and the Communities and Regions. Among other things, this showed that local authority recruitment did not relate to civil service functions but concerned social work (crèches, the CPAS/OCMW re employment programmes, etc.), the police and cultural and sports positions. Regarding the characteristics of public employment, an ever diminishing proportion of staff has civil servant status, and women are increasingly in the majority. Moreover, the standard of skills of public sector personnel is constantly improving. A more detailed study of the age pyramids showed that, taking account of current retirement and pre-retirement patterns, departures should be staggered without reaching disproportionate levels in the next five to ten years. However, the numbers leaving are expected to be greater in some branches, departments and institutions.

Suggested Citation

  • P. Bisciari & B. Eugène & L. Van Meensel, 2009. "Public employment in Belgium," Economic Review, National Bank of Belgium, issue ii, pages 53-68, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbb:ecrart:y:2009:m:june:i:ii:p:53-68

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    More about this item


    public employment; general government sector; Belgium;

    JEL classification:

    • H11 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • H83 - Public Economics - - Miscellaneous Issues - - - Public Administration
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • J45 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Public Sector Labor Markets


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