559 Belgian ex-workers to tap EU job fund

Hundreds of Belgian workers laid off last year are set to benefit from an EU job funding scheme.

Although the money won’t come as extra cash in their accounts, the €1.9m fund should help them find a new employment.

The 559 redundancies came after TNT Express Worldwide, a logistics firm, downsized its workforce at Liege airport in Belgium. The plan to cut staff had been made at the height of the pandemic caused by Covid-19.

TNT had decided to instead make Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport their primary hub of operations, leaving their Belgian counterparts unemployed. Freight transport at Liege airport has since dropped to just over 1m tonnes compared to over 1.4m in 2021.

Over half of those fired were low-skilled and almost as many over the age of 50. These combined factors made the prospect of finding a new job even more onerous.

Liege is also in the Belgian region of Wallonia whose unemployment rate, at the time, was higher than the national average. The pandemic had already crashed Wallonia’s economy, whose gross domestic product in 2020 stood at negative 6.2 percent.

According to Wallonia’s Institute for Evaluation, Foresight and Statistics (Iweps) the region’s GDP is now set to bounce back to pre-pandemic highs.

That is also good news for the former TNT workers in Liege. However, a better GDP forecast does not necessarily lead to a job. And an inflation spike leading to higher energy costs and raw material prices doesn’t help either.

But Wallonia also doesn’t have enough qualified people to fill jobs in various sectors. This includes everything from accountants to butchers and technicians, according to Forem, a public service job agency.

Last week, MEPs in the budget committee all backed a proposal to release almost €2m in EU funds to help ease them into employment.

The backing came after the Belgian state reached out to the European Commission for help.

European Globalisation Adjustment Fund

The Belgians in October last year submitted an application for the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGAF). The fund helps people who lost jobs because of major events like the pandemic or Russia’s war in Ukraine.

It can also be tapped due to larger economic trends like decarbonisation and automation. There are conditions. At least 200 people must have been fired.

Earlier this month, the European Commission complied with the Belgian request and agreed to release €1.9m.

The money covers 85 percent of the measures needed. The Walloon Region in Belgium will finance the remaining 15 percent or €400,000.

In a statement, Nicolas Schmit, jobs commissioner for jobs, said the funds will help “empower 559 workers who lost their job in the logistics sector in Belgium to relaunch their career.”

This comes in the shape of vocational advice and training.

Those that participate to improve their IT skills, for instance, will get a €400 lump sum. Others who go back to school can get €350 month. And others still who want to launch their own business can obtain up to €15,000 in grants.

The same fund, to date, has also been used in Estonia, Germany, Greece, France, Italy and Spain.

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