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Flanders will organise discrimination ‘field tests’ 

© Belga

Flemish Minister of Living Together Bart Somers will organise and help guide municipalities in setting up what the Flemish government calls “field tests” against discrimination in certain sectors.

The field tests, in which fictitious applications are used to check whether employers or landlords are guilty of discriminatory practices, have been the subject of discussion in the Flemish government for several days now.

On Wednesday evening, the majority in the Flemish Parliament approved a resolution that could indirectly lead to a mild form of these field tests, but Flemish Minister of Housing Matthias Diependaele (N-VA) stated that he was firmly against the practice.

On Thursday, however, Flemish Minister for Living Together Bart Somers, who is also the mayor of Mechelen, announced a plan to encourage the municipalities to organise these tests, after having already held several in his own city.

“We cannot afford to just stay in the same place. Everyone benefits from a just society,” Somers said.

The tests showed that people with a migration background are often excluded by real estate agents or private landlords, as someone with a Moroccon name was pushed back in favour of someone with a Belgian name in 31% of cases, even with a comparable salary, reports VRT.

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The results of a previous study by the city of Ghent showed similar results, and also showed that single mothers are often the target of discrimination.

Somers is now using those results to encourage all local authorities to work with the practical field tests. Previously, he used the same methods to set the bar higher in municipalities for a more ambitious climate plan as well as extra money for the culture sector.

Several cities and municipalities, such as Antwerp, Ghent and Mechelen, are already using them, but Somers will now deliver the necessary results and methods to all local authorities, and is also setting aside a budget for municipalities.

The tests must be rolled out in six phases, ranging from a baseline measurement with scientific input, through agreements with the sector and awareness-raising to a control measurement.

Real estate agents also indicated that they are often confronted with discriminatory questions from owners, which is why the city of Mechelen is launching an action plan, with workshops and training, to better inform and arm the real estate agents.

Additionally, the city will also carry out mystery calls, which are field tests by telephone, to real estate agents, to find out how the real estate agents react.

“The intention is not to organise a witch hunt,” alderman Greet Geypen told De Standaard. “The focus is on raising awareness. Those who score badly will be re-tested later,” she added.

Anyone who keeps discriminating persistently can be dealt with legally, but Somers expects that those will remain exceptions. In Ghent, where practical tests have been in place for some time, no one has yet been convicted.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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