Why do we celebrate Labour Day?

Today, we celebrate the international workers’ day in many countries around the World. Take advantage of your day off to have an insight into the Belgian labour market.

But first things first, why are you off today? The international workers’ day – also known as Labour Day – refers to the massive strikes that took place in Chicago back in the 1880′. At the time, the working class was often forced to work 16 hours a day in inhuman conditions.


In October 1884, the Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions of Canada and the Unites Stated decided that May 1, 1886, would mark the first day that an eight-hour workday would go into effect. On that day more than half a million American workers went on strikes across the country. Chicago, which was the nucleus of the struggle, saw an estimated 40,000 people protest and strike.

Labour Day around the world

Labour Day



Belgium made it a public holiday in 1948.

As it is the international workers’ day, let’s have a look at the Belgian labour market. 

In 2014, about 520,000 people were part of the active population in Brussels, while the working-age population represented 781,000 both Belgian and non-Belgian citizens. The activity age then reached 66.6%, a bit below than the Belgian average (Flanders is actually leading the labour market). The employment rate reached 54%, which is under the EU average (about 69%). Activity rate is however not the only figure to assess whether economy is good or not. And if you have decided to move to Brussels, you are probably interested in (un)employment.

The unemployment rate is also quite high, as 18% of the Brusselian population is considered unemployed, according to the International Labour Office criteria. This rate is however very different from categories to other ones. While the unemployment rate is high for low-qualified workers (more than 30%), it is lower for high-qualified workers (about 10%). And as most of the 270,000 European workers in Brussels are high-qualified, the expats are therefore fine.