Job applicants in Brussels reported 215 cases of discrimination by potential employers on the grounds of race, religious beliefs or gender, according to figures from Actiris Inclusive, the anti-discrimination office of the region’s employment service.
Racism is the problem behind almost half of all complaints, according to De Morgen, who saw the figures. That confirms earlier estimates, based on secret callers who would call up about a job vacancy using a Belgian name, and then again using a foreign name, and note the different reaction.
Then, with 21% of complaints, came religion or presumed religious background – for example when a person with an Arabic-sounding name was presumed to be a practising Muslim.
Finally, sexual discrimination came third. Interestingly, 60% of all complaints came from people living in Brussels-City commune, Anderlecht or Molenbeek, as if those addresses alone made a person unsuitable for a given job.
The number 215 may not seem like many for a city of around a million people, but Actiris Inclusive explained that this is the first time Actiris has reached out to people to report cases of discrimination.
Bernard Clerfayt, Brussels minister for labour, put the low number in perspective.
“The number of reports is too low,” he said. “In the Brussels Region, almost 100,000 employment contracts are signed every year. That would mean less than 0.3 percent are reports of discrimination in recruitment. That’s not the reality.”
Quite simply, the people of Brussels have not become familiar with the workings of Actiris Inclusive, according to Fatima Zibouh, who works for the service.
“We will have to focus even more on proactive information, awareness-raising and guidance,” she said.
For Unia, the former Centre for Equal Opportunities and the Fight Against Racism, the fault is not with Actiris Inclusive, but is deeply ingrained in Belgian society.
“There is a need for cultural change in all sectors,” said Danaé Malengreau, Unia spokesperson. “In 2019, most complaints at Unia were about work, and that is something new. We try to make companies such as B-Post and Accent Jobs more aware of this problem.”