Social Security and medical insurance

Social Security

As a rule, all domestic workers working legally in Belgium must be registered with Belgian Social Security. The Vienna Diplomatic and Consular Conventions do, however, make an exemption for private servants who do not need to register with Belgian social security, by way of a privilege.

Employment of private servants does not have to be declared to Belgian Social Security if:

  • De werknemer niet de Belgische nationaliteit heeft of geen permanente inwoner is in België
  • De werknemer geregistreerd is bij de sociale zekerheid van de zendstaat of van een derde land.

If these two conditions are not met, the private servant must register with Belgian Social Security and the employer is required to provide a certificate of affiliation and proof of registration with a health insurance fund or with the Belgian Health and Disability Insurance Agency (HZIV).

According to the instructions in the Protocol Guide, a private servant may also have access to Belgian Social Security, if:

  • Als de werknemer geregistreerd is in het sociale zekerheidssysteem van een ander land waarmee België een bilaterale akkoord inzake sociale zekerheid aangesloten heeft.
  • Als de werkgever de werknemer vrijwillig registreert in de Belgische sociale zekerheid.

Medical insurance

If the private servant is exempt from, or does not have access to Belgian Social Security, all medical expenses (medication, consultations and hospitalisation) must still be covered. In this case, the employer will need to register and pay for private medical insurance on the employee’s behalf.

The employer will also need to take out insurance against accidents at work and to cover the costs of potential repatriation.

The Social Security debate

The exemption provided for in the Vienna Convention on domestic workers is currently the subject of some discussion. The Vienna Conventions regulate diplomatic and consular relations, but are in no respect conventions on employment rights. On the other hand, employment legislation in Belgium, with regard to the employment rights of domestic workers, has greatly evolved in recent years. In addition, Belgium has ratified a special international Employment Convention for Domestic Workers, which challenges the legality of the exemption in the Vienna Conventions:

Conventie C189 voor het huishoudpersoneel

In 2011, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) approved Convention C189 on the valuable work carried out by domestic workers. In force since 2016, this convention defines minimum employment standards for domestic workers. The convention determines, among other things, that member states must take the necessary measures with regard to Social Security to make sure that domestic workers can enjoy conditions no less favourable than those applicable to all workers.

Convention C189 is a labour rights convention that defines standards for a specific group of employees. The Vienna Conventions are not employment rights conventions, but international instruments that exclusively regulate diplomatic and consular relations. As a result, and based on the legal principle of lex specialis derogat legi generali, Convention C189 should take precedence over the Vienna Conventions as special legislation.

Belgische wetgeving

In line with the implementation of Convention C189 into Belgian law since 2014, all servants are subject to Social Security in the same way as ‘standard’ employees. Regulations were adjusted to offer them social protection identical to that of other employees.

In 2018, the law on Collective Labour Agreements and joint committees was amended. Accordingly, non-privileged diplomatic mission staff are entitled to all working conditions determined by the Collective Labour Agreements of the Belgian joint committees. This change in legislation therefore also applies to diplomatic domestic staff and awards them the status of servants (Joint Committee 323).

De praktijk

In practice, we found that employers of diplomatic domestic staff are exempt from Belgian Social Security declaration, even if an employee is not registered in any other social security system. Employment is solely approved on the basis of the existence of private medical insurance. Medical expenses may be covered, however no social rights are accrued. Diplomatic domestic staff may not be employed for longer than ten years. After ten years, not only are they obliged to leave, but they do so with no pension or child support, for example.

FAIRWORK Belgium has been advocating for many years for effective access to Belgian Social Security for diplomatic domestic staff. In light of current Belgian legislation and the applicable Convention C189, it is our professional opinion that the responsibility for declaring diplomatic staff to Social Security lies with the employer, and that the exemption provided for by the Vienna Conventions is no longer legal in the Belgian context. Nevertheless, this matter has yet to undergo legal proceedings, meaning it is not yet an established precedent.