Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Associations
The most important employers’ organisation in Belgium is the VBO/FEB (‘Verbond van Belgische Ondernemingen/Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique’). It is organised on a national scale and its members are the various employers’ organisations that are each active in a specific industry or sector. In addition, several regional employer organisations exist. By application of the constitutional freedom of association, employees have the right of decision whether or not to join a trade union. Any employer applying pressure to join or not to join a trade union will be liable to criminal sanctions. Closed shops and non-union shops are outlawed in Belgium.
Rights and Importance of Trade Unions
Traditionally, unions choose not to organise themselves under a form that would entail a separate legal personality. As a result, they only exist as legal entities to perform specific acts that are assigned to them by law. Trade unions, but not their members, essentially enjoy immunity from responsibility. In addition, they have the power to: 1) conclude collective bargaining agreements with one or more employers or representative employers’ organisations; 2) put forward candidates for elections to the Works Council and the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work; 3) ensure that the correct procedure is observed for the election of representatives; 4) depending on the circumstances, form a Trade Union Delegation within the company; 5) propose lay judges to sit on the labour courts and labour courts of appeal; 6) represent their members before labour courts; and 7) in some circumstances, engage in legal action on their own behalf in order to defend the interests of their members.
Employees’ Representation in Management
This is not applicable in Belgium.
Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies
In addition to the representative bodies mentioned above, Directive 2009/38/EC aims to establish a European Works Council (EWC) or a procedure for informing and consulting employees in Community-scale undertakings and Community-scale groups of undertakings. A “Community-scale undertaking” means an undertaking with at least 1 000 employees in the Member States and at least 150 employees in at least two different Member States.
The procedure for setting up a European Works Council is to be initiated either on the initiative of the central management itself, or at the written request of the central management by at least 100 employees, or their representatives, employed in at least two establishments, or two undertakings, situated in at least two different Member States. Next, a special negotiation group will try to set up a European Works Council, but they can also decide to stop the negotiations. The special negotiation group will determine the main tasks and competences of the EWC.