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    110,000 Slaves in Belgium today?

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    Jean PeetersBy Jean Peeters, cicm
    Missionary in Belgium




    It's not "fake news," fortunately, according to "Walk Free," our country is only 154th out of 160 countries surveyed. Phew, there are only 110,000 victims of human trafficking in Belgium today.

    We already knew about the Asian or non-European women forced into prostitution in Antwerp, Brussels, and Liège, as pimps had confiscated their identity papers as soon as they arrived. These poor girls had been hired by recruiters looking for servers in stores and cafés! Journalist Chris De Stoop denounced this practice in 1992 in his famous book “Ze zijn zo lief, meneer“, which led to the creation of the non-profit organization, PAG-ASA, to fight against this scourge and try to save one or another of them. Later, another book denounced the odors emanating from the washing machines in the Anneessens district of Brussels: men and women locked in cellars to wash the enormous bed sheets from the city's chic hotels!

    At the beginning of 2022, PAG-ASA denounced the massive arrival of Chinese prostitutes who were deprived of their papers as soon as they arrived. Afghan boys were lured and forced into prostitution, supposedly to pay off the $10,000 it had cost them to cross the ocean and arrive in Belgium. In Antwerp, 50 slave workers were discovered on the construction site of the Borealis factory.

    What's even more disturbing is that most of these people work in jobs where there is a shortage of Belgian workers, sometimes even in skilled trades. Belgian parliamentarians have reportedly said they should be happy since they should usually be deported.

    Their rights: 

    Even if they are in an illegal situation and working illegally, these people have rights: a minimum wage (challenging to determine, but most certainly €120 for 8 hours), no dismissal without serious reasons written down on paper, compensation in the event of an accident at work, even if it's an illegal job, compensation after bankruptcy by the “Fond de fermeture des entreprises“, respect for working hours and paid vacations are very rarely granted, even though they are entitled to them exactly like any other worker, it's the law.

    The most frequent abuses: no minimum wage or irregular, incomplete or unpaid, dismissal without respecting the rules, non-compliance with legal working hours, no insurance for accidents at work, and, above all, if the worker dares to complain, threats to report him to the police and thus to expulsion!

    What can be done?

    If someone is mistreated by their employer, they should contact the labor inspectorate instead of the police. It is best to have someone accompany them. Labor inspectors know labor laws and can help without revealing the person's identity to the immigration authorities. The police are not experts in labor law and, therefore, cannot provide much assistance. They are more likely to contact immigration authorities, which could result in the person being deported.

    If an employee has a complaint and wishes to report it to the labor inspectorate, the complaint must be serious and supported by relevant evidence such as papers, videos, photos, etc. The inspectorate will then investigate the matter. The complainant's name will always be kept confidential and will not be disclosed to anyone unless authorized by the complainant themselves. However, if the employee wants to claim compensation and salary, they must provide their name. If the inspectorate finds that the employer has violated the law, they may propose that the employer rectify the breach and demand payment of any unpaid wages. Alternatively, the inspectorate may refer the case to court. If the court decides not to prosecute, an administrative fine may be imposed.

    Work-related accident

    If an undocumented worker is employed illegally and their employer, for example, a babysitter, housekeeper, or ironing service, fails to provide insurance, the “Fonds des Accidents du Travail” will cover the worker's medical expenses and subsequently pursue legal action against the employer. This is similar to what happens when an uninsured vehicle is involved in an accident. If the employer does not have workplace insurance, FEDRIS can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 02/272.22.40. This insurance covers all the expenses of the injured person who works illegally without papers, and then seeks reimbursement from the employer who did not have work insurance.        §