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Belgium: Employee Training – You Need a Plan (And Fast)!
Monday, February 19, 2024

Faced with the inconvenient truth that we’ll all need to work longer to keep state pensions affordable, the Belgian government is focusing more intensely on employee training to ensure that the country’s workforce remains up-to-date and equipped with employable professional skill sets throughout their career.

The Belgian Labour Deal that was voted through in 2022 established an individual right to training. From 1 January this year, full-time employees are entitled to a training credit of five days per year. Employers with at least 20 staff (full-time equivalents) are required to prepare an annual training plan, which must be drawn up and registered with the Ministry of Employment by 31 March of the year in question at the latest (though see below on this). The plan can cover the coming year only or it can be drawn up to reach several years into the future if the employees or their representatives agree.

The plan should include at least the formal and informal training the company wants to offer its employees. It must specify the target group(s) for which each of these training courses are intended. In addition, the plan should also take into account the gender dimension (meaning that access to training should not depend directly or indirectly on the gender of employees, for example by focusing training efforts on categories of employees where female employees are underrepresented). The employer is required, to pay particular attention to certain specific target groups for whom access to the labour market is more difficult, such as employees above the age of 50, employees who were unemployed when they were recruited, employees with reduced working capacity, employees in a bottleneck job (i.e. one for which there is a shortage of candidates) and employees below the age of 26 in a dual learning program.

Both formal and informal training may be considered for the training plan. The company decides on the proportion of each, but there may be sector-specific or industry-level guidelines and restrictions to be observed in this respect.

Formal training courses are courses and internships developed by professional trainers, whether in-house or external. They are usually:

  • organised to a large extent by a trainer or training institution
  • held in a place clearly separated from the workplace (but this is not a legal requirement)
  • aimed at providing a specific skillset to a specific group of students
  • developed or managed by the employer or by an external organism.

Informal training is training that does not meet the conditions of formal training but is nevertheless directly related to work, meeting the following conditions:

  • A “high degree of self-organisation by individual workers or by a group of workers when it comes to the time, place and content of training”. This cryptic description was formulated by the National Bank of Belgium and is unfortunately all we have to go by at the moment. What we suspect the Bank intended to say, is that there should be a sufficient level of effort to organise the training that it is distinct from the employees simply performing their job. That said, informal training can also include participation in conferences or trade fairs, self-study, on-the-job training and coaching.
  • The content of the training responds to the individual current and future needs of workers in the workplace and
  • The content is directly related to the work and the workplace, , i.e. be aimed at benefitting the department or business as a whole.

What’s the process?

If the company has a works council or trade union delegation, the draft training plan must be submitted to it for consultation, at least 15 days before any meeting with management to discuss the plan. The works council or union delegation must give its opinion by 15 March at the latest. While it is good practice for the employer to be seen to consider that opinion, it Is not bound by it. The final content of the training plan must be adopted by 31 March.

If there is no works council or union delegation, the training plan must be communicated to all employees by 15 March at the latest. There is in those circumstances no formal requirement for consultation but it still makes good sense to ask the employees if they have any views on the plan. The content of the training plan must again be finalised by 31 March.

In principle, the plan should also be communicated to the Ministry of Employment, but how this is to be done in practice is yet to be determined by an appropriate Royal Decree, so for now, it is sufficient to keep a copy of the plan on company premises (or on the intranet).

Please also note that the legislator has introduced the possibility for joint committees (the industry-level legislative bodies), to determine minimum conditions for these training plan. Joint Committee 200, for example, has concluded a collective agreement on training and drawn up a model training plan.

And what if I don’t?

The Labour Deal contains no specific sanction for employers which do not draw up a training plan. This may be different if your sector has imposed minimum conditions  developed through collective bargaining. A Level 1 sanction (an administrative fine of €80-€800) can be imposed on an employer which fails to comply with a collective agreement declared generally binding in its sector.

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