Temporary employment, subcontracting, foreign subcontracting ... what's the difference?

Working with foreign labor often provides a quick solution to a pressing vacancy problem. That employment can be done in several ways: through temporary employment, Subcontracting or foreign subcontracting, also called secondment. Terminology which are often juggled without knowledge. Therefore, here is a clear explanation on how to employ foreigners and the pros and cons of each system.

Properly employ foreign employees

First of all, there is no really simple way to clarify the differences between temporary employment, subcontracting or foreign subcontracting. And certainly not when it comes to employment of foreign employees. 

Therefore, as a rule of thumb already this: Use the form of employment that fits best and makes you feel most secure. Anything tending toward "gray" areas and inspired by lower costs is usually not the right and certainly not the most sustainable solution. Therefore, the explanation below is based on years of practical experience.

Temporary employment ≠ Subcontracting
Subcontracting ≠ Foreign subcontracting
Foreign subcontracting ≠ Temporary employment

Temporary employment

Temporary, flexible employees

Temporary employment is ideally suited if you have

  • Does not find enough employees for a temporary assignment
  • Don't want to make the effort to look for staff yourself
  • Who does not want to put temporary staff on payroll
  • Want to manage the new employees yourself
  • Want to exercise authority and supervision yourself



+ Employment agency = employer, You = user

- You pay a commission on top of the normal labor cost

+ Employment agency provides all Formalities that an employer must complete in Belgium. (vacation pay, year-end bonus, pension, holidays, illness, etc.)

- All formalities/costs are included in the cost per hour, making it much higher seems

+ You are responsible for the authority and supervision on the temporary worker.

- You or your team must exercise authority and supervision effectively, and you are also responsible for safety, PPE, certifications, ...

+ You can extend the flexible contracts (usually by the week) as long as the assignment lasts. In consultation with the employment agency, you can also hire the temporary workers on a permanent basis. 

- The client and the temporary worker themselves can also terminate a contract on a weekly basis.

+ Temporary employment is the only legally correct way to make staff available to third parties.

- The cost is always based on the sector scale by profile and is not linked to productivity or outcome.


Mission accomplished

You choose subcontracting if you

  • does not have the right expertise for certain sub aspects of an assignment;
  • Seeking a qualified company with knowledge and expertise to bring these sub aspects to fruition

This company bills its services to you as the general contractor.



+ You subcontract a certain part of a job and pay the subcontractor a fixed price for the total project or per hour on a directional basis. 

- You do not exercise authority and/or supervision over the subcontractor's employees. The latter directs his own people. 

+ You pay for the realization of a particular project. How the subcontractor accomplishes it is of no consequence.

- You cannot/may not decide whether or not a particular subcontractor's personnel is satisfactory and may need to be replaced. 

+ You do not invest in work resources because the subcontractor provides all materials and tools to properly perform the job. 

- You remain responsible for safety and conveying certain safety instructions on the job site. Take care when sharing materials, clothing or infrastructure!

+ A subcontractor can often work at a different price than yourself, but he too must follow certain rules. (If it's too good to be true, it's usually not true)

- It is very difficult for you to verify that the subcontractor is applying all the rules correctly, but you as the general contractor are (co-)liable if he does not. 

Foreign subcontracting

Temporary workers from abroad 

You choose secondment if you  

  • needs temporary workers
  • not find these in the local market
  • Don't want to put them on your payroll
  • Don't find the technical knowledge or too little among your existing contacts
  • The same reasons as for subcontracting.

Foreign subcontracting means that a foreign company employs people in Belgium who are thus - under certain conditions - still covered by the social security of their home country. They are thus "seconded" to the country where the work takes place and could often be employed there at a lower cost. 

However, with the new posting directive in Belgium, that price aspect should become negligible in the short term.

Note that a lot of "secondment companies" operate in Belgium from the Netherlands. However, posting in the Netherlands means something different from posting in Belgium. Dutch and other foreign secondment companies must have a permit as a staffing company in Belgium. Therefore, always ask for their valid recognition number. Only then can they legally put people from abroad to work.



+ A foreign subcontractor usually has sufficiently qualified personnel. 

- You usually agree on a price for a project or in direction but don't clearly know what is included in that cost. 

- The staff generally speaks only their native language. 

+ The foreign subcontractor must provide all necessary documents for its personnel to work in Belgium. 

+ He must request correct A1 documents for his employees and complete the Limosa declaration. 

- You must comply with all Belgian laws and regulations applicable to the secondee

Deliver employee to the foreign subcontractor

- You must be able to demonstrate the application of those Belgian laws and regulations to the seconded employee

- Failure to comply with Belgian laws and regulations is subject to criminal prosecution

+ The subcontractor is responsible for the authority and supervision on its seconded employee.

- You or your team may no exercise authority and supervision effectively. This is strictly controlled and the rules are not always one-size-fits-all to apply.  

+ Usually foreign subcontractors can make a more competitive price. Which makes it attractive. 

- The cost must always be based on the sector scale per profile and the correct working conditions must also be followed by the subcontractor. In case of violation, a cascade rule applies and you can also be held responsible.

The differences between temporary employment, subcontracting and foreign subcontracting

Therefore, the obvious differences between these different forms of employment are:

Temporary employment

with foreign employees

Foreign subcontracting/ Secondment

of foreign employees by a foreign subcontractor


for a task to be performed

DIMONA declaration by the staffing companyLIMOSA declaration is required by the subcontractor.Belgian social security scheme.
Employees contribute to and are affiliated with Belgian social securityEmployees are affiliated with social security in their home country (to be proven by an A1 document).Employees contribute to and are affiliated with Belgian social security
You are responsible for authority and supervisionThe subcontractor is responsible for authority and supervisionThe subcontractor is responsible for authority and supervision

Employees may use your

use materials and your work clothes

Subcontractor employees must use their own work clothes and equipment.Subcontractor employees must use their own work clothes and equipment.
You decide which work station the temporary worker will be assigned to and change it if necessary.You may change the assignment only if the work situation requires a change of commitment. And so you must also modify your agreement.

You may change the assignment only if the work situation requires a change of commitment.

And so you must also amend your agreement.

You fall under clear Belgian legislation of Temporary Employment. It is perfectly regulated and controlled.You yourself cannot possibly verify and conclusively verify that the subcontractor is applying all the rules correctly. But you are responsible if it does not.Belgian regulations are known and thus can be more easily controlled.
Temporary employees follow exactly all rules and internal instructions like your permanent staff.The secondees must also follow their own working hours and instructions. They can only take limited instructions from the general contractor.

The Belgian subcontractor normally knows the rules used in

Belgium apply.

Do you have any further questions about this?

Then quickly take contact with us, we will be happy to explain further.

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