What are trade unions?
In Belgium, trade unions are essentially associations that represent employees’ general interests and base themselves on the fundamental values of equality and social justice. That means that they form no part of the government. They operate entirely independently thanks to member contributions, which act as the binding agent of solidarity. Trade unions were set up more than 100 years ago in response to the poor working conditions of many employees (in Belgium). It is thanks to trade unions that employment conditions have greatly improved. There are three large trade unions in Belgium: the Christian Trade Union (ACV), the Socialist Trade Union (ABVV) and the Liberal Trade Union (ACLVB).
Trade unions help members paying a contribution which depends on their current situation (unemployed, without legal residence, etc.). A trade union will only defend your case at the labour court if you have been a member of the union for six months or more. You do not have to be a member of the union to ask for information, even if you are an employee without legal residence.
It is useful to know that some people in the trade union have accumulated expertise in employee issues who have a precarious or illegal residence.
Don’t be afraid to get in touch with a trade union about a problem, even if you’re not a member. Explain your situation and ask how they can help you. You will almost always get some initial advice.