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. Representative unions have a place on the National Labour Council and the joint committees (committees at industry level where collective bargaining agreements are negotiated). The representative bodies that must be set up within the Belgian undertakings if the conditions are met, include:
- Works Council: a Works Council is a representative body at company level designed to foster information, consultation and collaboration between employer and employees.
- Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work (CPPW): the CPPW plays an advisory role in health and safety matters and is also closely involved in the recruitment of prevention officers.
- Trade Union Delegation: the Trade Union Delegation is a body representing union members within the undertaking whose competencies include matters relating to (i) industrial relations (supervision of the observing of employment legislation) and (ii) negotiations for concluding Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) without affecting existing CBAs or other agreements concluded at other levels. They also have a crucial role to play in conflict resolution and mediation between parties.
Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies
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. A Community-scale group is a group of undertakings meeting the following conditions:
- it has at least 1 000 employees in the Member States
- it consists of at least two undertakings belonging to the group, in different Member States, and
- at least one group undertaking has at least 150 employees in one Member State, and at least one other group undertaking has at least 150 employees in another Member State.
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.