Belgium Introduces Historic Job Contracts for Sex Workers

Sarhan Basem

Brussels (Brussels Morning) – The new rules permit prostitutes to sign job contracts with authorised employers. It’s an outstanding effort to regulate the sector, but not everyone is persuaded.

How Will New Rules Affect Belgium’s Sex Work Industry?

In Belgium, prostitutes will soon have the freedom to have the same social privileges as other employees, a law assumed in May 2024. The new rules permit them to sign job contracts with authorised employers. It’s an unprecedented step to regulate the sector, but not everyone is convinced.

Earlier, hostess bars and erotic massage parlours in Belgium worked in a legal grey area: sex workers were paid in cash or were operated under waitress contracts. It was believed an open door to abuse, according to supporters of the law. “It feels good to know what is legally allowed because the question has always been whether we were doing things correctly or not,” states Alexandra Moreels, owner of an erotic salon.

How Will Belgium’s New Law Impact Sex Work Regulation?

By decriminalising specific forms of pimping, the government states it intends to impose clear rules on the sector, make statuses adapted to the specific and individual aspects of sex work, and assure access to unemployment benefits, fitness insurance, and maternity leave.

To recruit lawfully, employers must have their criminal records reviewed, obtain an authorisation to work, and have their office in Belgium. They must also respect their worker’s right to refuse a client and to prevent a sexual act at any time. “We have no problem with that at all, so everything here is legal. It’s as described in the law that is coming now. The ladies should be able to choose which client they want to do. That’s already the case here” states Kris, Alexandra’s husband and co-owner of the salon.

“Obviously, some are forced to receive clients. And so for those people, it is super important that this law has been passed,” explains Manon, who has been a sex employee in Belgium since she was 19 years old. “It must be a job that presents us the same rights as anyone else’s,” she adds.

How Effective Are Belgium’s New Rules Against Human Trafficking?

However, this reform is not unanimously accepted, especially among specific feminist associations that attack a commodification of women’s bodies and a text that is inappropriate for the conditions of migrant prostitutes and sufferers of human trafficking. Without a work pass, they cannot be employed under the framework of the new law.

“This will favour pimps and traffickers who already profit from enormous impunity in Belgium,” states Mireia Crespo, director of ISALA, an association that sustains women prostitutes in vulnerable situations.

Many professionals in the sector assume this reform to be the most realistic strategy. “Sex work exists. And if you don’t do it unrestricted, it will exist underground,” states Karin Van Der Elst, proprietor of Villa Tinto in Antwerp, a real estate complex where prostitutes can lease windows by the day. At this stage, the new regulation still raises many questions. According to professionals, it will take several years to evaluate its effects on the living conditions of sex employees as well as on trafficking and pimping.

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Sarhan Basem is Brussels Morning's Senior Correspondent to the European Parliament. With a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, Sarhan brings a unique blend of linguistic finesse and analytical prowess to his reporting. Specializing in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and security issues, he delves deep into the intricacies of global politics to provide insightful commentary and in-depth coverage. Beyond the world of journalism, Sarhan is an avid traveler, exploring new cultures and cuisines, and enjoys unwinding with a good book or indulging in outdoor adventures whenever possible.