Belgium set to recognize sex work professionally and legally

Sarhan Basem
credit: mumsnet

Brussels (Brussels Morning) – Approximately 30,000 sex workers operate in Belgium, nearly double the workforce in the Flemish textile sector. A new law effective from December 2024 will grant them social rights, safety guarantees, and the freedom to refuse clients and specific acts.

An assessed thirty thousand sex workers are operated in Belgium. In terms of size, this is almost double the number of employees in the Flemish textile sector. However, unlike officially recognised textile workers, sex workers do not enjoy any social rights. More than thirty years after the first cry for a so-called ‘whore’s union’, an implementing decree for sex work in employment will come into force from December 2024. 

What social rights will sex workers gain?

It will allow sex workers to step out of the grey zone in which their profession is merely tolerated and also give them access to social security. For example, they will be able to build up holiday and pension rights. In addition, strict regulations must guarantee their safety and well-being.

What freedoms will sex workers have in their profession?

“The employment contract for sex workers must always be drawn up in writing due to the risk of abuse. This makes it easier for inspection services to check,” says Jurgen Masure of the socialist trade union ABVV. Furthermore, the legislator enshrines important freedoms for sex workers in the exercise of their profession. “For example, they are given the right to refuse a sexual partner, to refuse specific sexual acts, to interrupt or stop the activity at any time and to set conditions for the sexual acts,” Masure knows.

What are the rules for employers of sex workers?

Employers in turn are bound by strict rules and must be recognised by the government. Only companies can receive this recognition (so no sole proprietorships) and their directors may not have any convictions. Employers must appoint a reference person who is available during the sex worker’s entire working hours. Workspaces must have an emergency button and must be accessible to inspectors, prevention workers and care providers. Furthermore, the appointment of a confidential person is also mandatory.

Anyone who employs sex workers without recognition risks prosecution for pimping. This also applies to employers who obtain an abnormally high profit from the work of a sex worker. Although many sex workers can officially enter into employment in December, some are excluded from the profession. Student workers, flexi-jobbers and occasional workers, such as seasonal workers, cannot start working as sex workers under employment. Temporary employment is also not permitted in sex work, as is the employment of minors.

What provisions are made for working from home?

The new law also provides for working from home, although the specific conditions for this still have to be worked out in a collective labour agreement. Sex workers are also allowed to terminate their employment contract without notice or severance pay. In this case, they can still fall back on unemployment benefits if certain conditions are met. This is exceptional in labour law.

Although the broad outlines of the professional statute have already been established, the social partners, including the unions, will still have the opportunity to provide additional advice. According to the ABVV, there are still some ambiguities, especially in the areas of well-being, prevention and coordination with local legislation, such as police regulations. Once these have been resolved, the ‘oldest profession in the world’ can finally be legally recognised.

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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.