Just the way it is for numerous other subject matters also the ban on discrimination is a
subject matter with respect to which the European institutions have taken the lead. Obviously, the
member states had to follow.
As a result, extensive regulations have been adopted in Belgium by the national authority as well
as by the regional authorities.
Quite remarkable, as compared to the European regulations, the Belgian legislator has substantially
extended the banned discrimination grounds: in addition to gender, religion or philosophy of life,
handicap, age and sexual orientation, included in the European regulation, the Belgian legislator
has added civil status, birth, fortune, political conviction, trade union persuasion, language,
current or future health condition, physical or genetic quality and social birth in the Belgian
legislation as banned grounds of discrimination.
Looking at the number of cases before the (employment) tribunals, involving complaints based on
discrimination, it looks like discrimination is not a “hot issue” in the Belgian society.
It would therefore not be surprising that the broad attention in the media for the recent
decision of the employment tribunal of Ghent in a case involving discrimination on the basis of age
would be due mainly to the identity of the accused party – a kitchen manufacturer whose brand name
became known as a result of his publicity campaigns in the media.
In any event, the lack of attention so far for the discrimination legislation should not be
understood as an indication that there would be few or no problems in daily life. At the occasion
of the decision of the employment tribunal of Ghent, UNIA, the Interfederal Equal Opportunity
Centre, has called the attention to the fact that, by way of example, discrimination on the basis
of age, although it often remains under the radar, constitutes a real problem, that will become
more important as a result of the rise in the ageing population.
The poor attention in daily life is even more surprising because governmental institutions, such as
UNIA, have been established particularly in order to fight all kinds of discrimination.
Beyond any doubt, it is very important in that respect that UNIA, at its own initiative, can
initiate judicial procedures as claiming party at the occasion of individual infringements, subject
to the consent of the aggrieved party. As an example of such action, reference can be made to the
case before the employment tribunal of Ghent.
A tricky item in cases involving discrimination is the furnishing of proof, which is to be
submitted in principle by the claiming party, unless this party can demonstrate facts, which may
create an assumption of the existence of discrimination on the basis of one of the banned grounds.
In that case, the defending party must submit evidence of absence of all discrimination.
In the case before the employment tribunal of Ghent, submitting evidence was not a problem: a
representative of the kitchen manufacturer had replied to the applicant in all honesty and
sincerity that he had the right profile for the vacant job, but that he nevertheless would not be
invited for an interview because of his age (59 years)!
It is to be expected that cases of this nature will result in an increasing attention for
discrimination issues and that also employers will be facing more and more claims based on
An additional reason to be cautious, even more so because court decisions may provide UNIA with
good justifications to keep sight of violators.