The gender pay gap and what Belgian employers need to do about it (now and in the future)Marga Capronion March 20, 2023 at 12:08 pm Employment Law Worldview


The statistics

Some uplifting news last week from Statbel, the Belgian Agency for Statistics. In 2021, there was no longer a pay gap for young women in Belgium. But as their age goes up, so opens up the pay gap with male colleagues. On average across all ages, women in Belgium earned 5% less per hour than men in 2021. This means the average wage gap has narrowed slightly from 5.3% the previous year.

Among workers under the age of 25, the differences in hourly wages between men and women have completely disappeared.  But as age increases, women earn ever less than men. Between 35 and 44, the disadvantage is 4.5%.  From 55 onwards, it rises to 8.5%.  Compared to previous years, the pay gap for women in those age groups has barely narrowed. A determining factor for the pay gap remains the issue of whether the female employee has children or not.

Compared to most European Union countries, Belgium does not look at all bad in terms of the gender pay gap. There are only four countries where the pay gap is smaller than in our country: Luxembourg, Romania, Slovenia and Poland. This may explain in part why the topic of equal pay is not as big an issue in Belgium as it is in the UK, for example. There are nonetheless for Belgian employers still some obligations to comply with, and for one of those, the deadline is fast approaching.  

The obligation to draw up an analysis report

Belgian companies with an average of at least 50 employees must draw up an analysis report every two financial years based on a template provided by the Ministry of Employment. The report can be comprehensive or concise, depending on whether the company has more or less than 100 employees.

The analysis of the remuneration structure required for that report should make it possible to determine whether the company positively pursues a gender-neutral remuneration policy and, if not, to reach such a position through consultation with the staff representatives.

Since the information on pay involves personal data, the information requested does not have to be published when the number of employees involved is three or fewer in order to avoid the identification of the employees concerned. When this situation occurs, it is not necessary to provide information about the opposite sex.

The report is to be sent to the Works Council, (or, where there is none, to the trade union delegation) at least fifteen days before the meeting scheduled to examine it.  In consultation with the employer, they decide whether it is opportune to draw up an action plan with a view to implementing an expressly gender-neutral remuneration structure within the company. If such an action plan is decided upon and drawn up, the next analysis report should contain an additional section on the state of progress of this plan.

On the proposal of the Works Council / union delegation, an employer with at least 50 staff on average may appoint a staff member as mediator. There is no obligation to do so.

The mediator, if appointed, is charged with the following tasks :

providing expert advice to the employer and employee representatives on the advisability of drawing up an action plan to implement a gender-neutral pay structure within the company;
advising the employer and cooperating with it in the drafting of the progress report on the plan;
hearing any employee who believes he/she is the subject of unequal treatment in terms of remuneration based on gender, and informing him/her of the possibility of reaching a solution informally through an intervention with a suitable manager;
assisting the employer in the implementation of the procedure to be followed in the event of mediation.

The mediator should be ready to draw up a report of his work at the request of the Works Council or the union delegation.

What’s my deadline?

The analysis is to drawn up every two years, by 31 March of the year following the two financial years covered in the analysis.

And what if I don’t?

In our experience, the appointment of a mediator is very rare, and the drafting of the analysis report is also very often overlooked. There may however be consequences to such non-compliance: the employer which does not share the analysis with his Works Council or union delegation may be sanctioned with a Type 2 sanction (criminal fine of € 400 to € 4.000, or, more likely, an administrative fine of € 200 to € 2.000). Not having drafted the bi-annual report would also be a very difficult start to a defence against claims from (former) employees that the company operates any form of conscious or unconscious wage discrimination.

On the horizon

On a European level, further measures are expected in the near future in the form of a new European directive. This directive will impose heavier information requirements on employers, starting with the job posting. In it, employers will have to provide information about the initial salary level a newcomer will earn. Furthermore, employers will have to make the criteria used for a given salary level available to their employees, alongside the ground rules that apply to a raise or promotion. Employees will have the right to request written information on the average wage level of colleagues doing equivalent work at any time. Finally, they will also have the right to request written information about how much they themselves earn compared to the average wage level of colleagues doing equivalent work, broken down by gender.

We are not quite there yet, and we will keep you informed along the way. But for now, please do consider that analysis report.

Employment Law Worldview

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