Few Ukrainian refugees working due to the overly generous benefit policy

24 May 2023

In the Netherlands, almost 80% of Ukrainian refugees of working age are employed, half of them through a temporary employment agency. On the other hand, that figure is abnormally low for Belgium. Barely a quarter of the 65,000 Ukrainian refugees have worked in the past year. What is the cause of this? It is not because of a language handicap or a lack of jobs, but because of a far too generous benefit policy. “That is why the living wage amounts must be reduced, as in the Netherlands,” says MP Theo Francken.

Theo Francken: “In the Netherlands, Ukrainian refugees receive only 60% of the living wage amount they would receive in Belgium. As a result, the incentive in the Netherlands to accept a job is much greater. I had warned about this from the beginning. The federal government’s decision to immediately grant every Ukrainian refugee an equivalent living wage was a historic mistake. That is why we propose reducing living wage amounts for Ukrainian refugees to the Dutch level. That means to EUR 270 per month for adults and EUR 230 for their minor children if they are in accommodation provided by the government. Those are certainly not large amounts. But that is not necessary. There is plenty of work. Assisting Ukrainian refugees to them is the message.”

Legally possible

Theo Francken fiercely defended this proposal in the Chamber Committee on the Interior, but he could not prevent the Vivaldi government majority parties from voting against the proposal. According to the majority parties, a separate arrangement for Ukrainian refugees is impossible. That’s not true, says Theo Francken: “It is indeed legally possible to work out a lower amount for Ukrainian refugees. They enjoy a separate temporary protection status. People hide behind a legal fallacy to avoid talking about the substantive side of the matter.”

Wake up in Brussels too

The same problems are also being faced in Brussels. What’s more, only 10% of Ukrainian refugees are working there. Brussels MP Gilles Verstraeten: We can’t change the living wage scheme in Brussels, but when you see that figure of 10%, you have to wake up! Following the example of Flanders and the VDAB The Vlaamse Dienst voor Arbeidsbemiddeling en Beroepsopleiding (VDAB, Flemish Public Employment and Professional Training Service) is a Flemish public service that coordinates supply and demand in the employment market, with its main task consisting of serving as an intermediary for job seekers and providing them with support in getting back to work. Since the State reform in 1989, job placement has been a competence of the Regions and job training a competence of the Communities. The VDAB’s counterpart in Wallonia is Forem, and Actiris in Brussels. VDAB , we must investigate whether we can make registration with Actiris mandatory, take a more systematic approach and be more proactive. That applies to all the inactive people in Brussels, whether they are Ukrainian or not. I will therefore continue to urge the minister to step things up with Actiris.”

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