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Structure and evolution of Belgian public sector employment. (29/10/2010)


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This paper falls within the framework of debates and reflection on the efficiency of the public sector. Evaluation of this efficiency assumes a conflict between effectiveness, in terms of services produced, and the resources employed. This paper examines the question of resources, focusing on an aspect that is essential to the size of the public sector - i.e. employment - without examining the question of effectiveness. In concrete terms, this paper aims to analyse the structure and evolution of public sector employment in Belgium. In 2009, the general government sector employed 828 000 people, which represents 18.7% of total employment in Belgium.

Up to almost 90% of employment in the general government sector is in administration (392 000 jobs in 2009) and state education activities (344 000 jobs). The sub-sector of the communities and regions comprises the greatest share of employment in the government sector (44%), followed by the local authorities (35%). Entity 2 therefore comprises 80% of the sector and entity 1 comprises 20% (the federal authorities 17% and social security 4%). The federal authorities and the local authorities employ about 70% of their staff in the “administration” branch. The communities and regions employ 76% of their staff in education.

Between 1995 and 2009, employment in the general government sector increased to 100 000 units. Within the federal authorities, employment remained stable, with the increase taking place in local authorities (+58 000), the communities and regions (+38 000) as well as in social security (+5 000). Entity 2 therefore contributed 95% of this increase. In terms of activity, employment increased above all in the “administration” branch (+72 000) and in state education (+35 000) while it went down strongly in Defence (- 13 000).

In the “administration” branch, employment increased over the whole period in all sub-sectors but primarily within local authorities (+41 000). In 2009, entity 1 represented 33% of employment in the “administration” branch (the federal authorities 25% and social security 8%) and entity 2 represented 67% (the local authorities 52% and the communities and regions 15%).

Examination of the “administration” branch according to function reveals that in 2008, “general services” represented the greatest share (37%) followed by “public order and safety” (22%). Between 1995 and 2008, employment increased primarily in “public order and safety” (14 000 additional staff at the federal level and 8 000 in local authorities). Employment also increased in the relatively poorly represented functions, which indicates in particular a trend towards new needs, for example the “recreation, culture and religion” function, where employment increased by 8 000 units in local authorities (in particular the development of sports and cultural centres). In the context of new needs at the federal level, employment increased in social protection and health with, for example, the creation of the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) at the beginning of the 2000s following the dioxin crisis; on the contrary, employment went down by 4 000 units in the general services of the FPS Finance. Within the communities and regions, the significant increase in the “economic affairs” function (+6 000) could reflect the wish to strengthen the powers transferred from the federal level to the regions since 1989, as in the areas of the economy, agriculture and external trade. In the social security funds, employment has especially increased in health (+3 000), in the mutual compulsory insurance funds.

In terms of evolution by employment status, even if permanent positions remained in the majority in the general government sector in 2008 (57%), this share had declined (63% in 1997). Examination of the distribution of government sector employment according to age group indicates that the share of employees aged over 50 represented about 30% in 2008 as against 21% for employees in the whole of the economy.

Elsewhere, we have focused on a wider concept of public employment: the “public domain” – a notion developed by the OECD – which can include subcontracting services, and health and social security services that are financed by the State but provided by the market sector. The “public domain” comprised 1 299 000 jobs in 2008 and so represented 29% of jobs in the whole of the Belgian economy. When considering the “public domain” in terms of final consumption expenditure by function, health represents the largest share, i.e. 30%.

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