Workplace elections require thorough preparation – Update: suspension of the workplace election procedure by Covid-19.

Every four years, the social partners in Belgium hold their Olympic Games: workplace elections. After the votes have been counted we know which of the workplace representatives will be members of the Works Councils and the Health and Safety Committees. Thorough preparation of this process is very important for any company.

Suspension of the workplace election procedure to November 2020

The social elections in May 2020 were postponed for 6 months to 16 to 29 November due to Covid-19. The trade unions and employers’ organisations realised that it made no sense to organise the elections in full coronavirus crisis. The health context remains alarming this autumn. That is why the social partners met at the end of October and reached an agreement. Obviously, this agreement concerns safe and therefore electronic and postal voting as much as possible. The agreement was submitted to the Federal Parliament on October 29, with a view to an amendment to the Social Elections Act. (Source: website Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue; only available in Dutch and French).

The magical limit of 100.

The purpose of workplace elections is to appoint representatives to the Health and Safety Committee in companies with a minimum size of 50 employees. As soon as there is an average of at least 100 employees, a Works Council must be set up. In such case, elections resembling parliamentary elections at company level are held. In companies employing between 50 and 99 employees which need to renew a Works Council, no election is needed to choose the members of the Works Council. Their role will be taken on by the elected union representatives of the Health and Safety Committee (hereinafter: the Committee).

Exact calculation of the number of employees. 

In the calculation of the number of employees, all types of employees must be taken into account: blue- and white-collar workers, executives, trade representatives, home workers, employees in professional training, etcetera. Temporary workers, such as students, and employees who are absent due to long-term illness, time credit or pregnancy leave must also be counted. Surprisingly, agency workers employed during the second quarter of 2019 must also be taken into account, unless the reason for the agency work is ‘replacement of a permanent employee whose employment contract has been suspended‘. The following employees do not count in the calculation: the internal health and safety adviser, business managers who do not have an employment contract, early retirees, expatriates who have been seconded to Belgium from a foreign branch, or workers who have entered into a replacement agreement.

Participate or not?

First of all, it is crucial to determine whether a company is under the obligation to organise workplace elections at all by calculating the average number of employees. Companies should not be taken by surprise by this question. Secondly, a company will need to determine whether general workplace elections need to be held for all branches. It is possible that certain branches have a separate Works Council or Committee. Social criteria are crucial here, such as which branches hold an end-of-year party. Thirdly, a company must ask itself who belongs to the management staff (first and second levels of daily management in the company). Fourthly, for the Works Council, the question arises who of the office workers holds a higher position and therefore belongs to management.

What does the employer need to do?

First of all, the employer needs to define its strategy. It is crucial to have a clear idea of where you want to go as an organisation in the next four years. This is a debate the management needs to enter into with the social partners, keeping an open mind. It is advisable for the employer to plan this process carefully. What does the calendar for the election look like when it comes to the announcement, the date of the election, the lists of candidates, the invitations to vote, the appointment of the polling station presidents, the announcement of the candidates elected …? How many employees are available for the preparation of the workplace elections? Is there sufficient internal expertise or is external help needed? A few practical matters should be taken into account as well, such as the organisation of the voting itself.

In short: preparations for workplace elections are quite complex. It is therefore advisable to start preparing well in advance and get help where needed.


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