The Flemish government plans to have a clear picture of the extent of discrimination on the jobs and housing markets by the middle of 2021, labour minister Hilde Crevits (CD&V) has promised.
The pledge led to criticism from both sides of the debate.
On the one hand, far-right party Vlaams Belang thinks the government is going too far in trying to wipe out discrimination by government fiat.
On the other hand, opposition parties (socialists sp.a and ecologists Groen, as well as the far-left PVDA) want the government to do more than measure the extent of the problem, but also to introduce so-called practical tests to uncover concrete examples of unlawful discrimination and take action against the guilty party.
Practical tests take the principal of the secret shopper and apply it to applications for housing or for jobs.
In essence, the tester poses as an applicant using, for example, a North African-sounding name, and notes the response from the landlord or employer. Then, another tester presents with a clearly Belgian name, and notes the response. Where there is a clear difference – where the North African has been told the job is filled while the Belgian is given an appointment for interview – further investigation is considered worthwhile.
The government itself appears divided. Last week housing minister Matthias Diependaele (N-VA) made it clear there was no plan to introduce practical tests. Later, social affairs minister Bart Somers (Open VLD) issued a press release saying the opposite.
The government has now agreed a middle road. The level of discrimination will be measured scientifically, but without the use of practical tests.
Once a clear picture is available, the government will enter into talks with the sectors involved to work out how they themselves plan to tackle the problem.
As far as the opposition is concerned, the plan leaves much to be desired. Discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, gender etc is already unlawful, and yet such discrimination undoubtedly exists. The two sectors most affected – employment and housing (especially rented housing) – seem not to have a handle on the problem.
“I’m not going to act the mother-in-law and tell the construction sector how it should be done,” Crevits said. “They have to be convinced that it is necessary, and I am convinced that I will also get their commitment,” she said.