Belgium adopts a decent work strategy for its international cooperation

Belgian trade unions have contributed to and will ensure the implementation of a strategic note on decent work from the Belgian Directorate-General for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid.

On 12 January 2024, during its presidency of the EU, Belgium presented its strategic note on decent work, aimed at strengthening collaboration on decent work and providing clear policy guidelines for the various players involved in Belgium’s international cooperation efforts: government agencies (DGD, Enabel, BIO), institutional actors (universities, cities and municipalities), civil society (trade unions and NGOs) and multilateral agencies (ILO).

The international cooperation institutes of the three Belgian trade unions (ACV-CSCi of the CSC, IFSI-ISVI of the FGTB, BIS-MSI of the ACLVB-CGSLB) and the six other members [1] of the Belgian Decent Work Coordination Platform (PCTD) [2] were actively involved in drafting the strategic note. Although the process sometimes revealed differing approaches and visions to those of the relevant authorities, we welcome its official adoption, which should result in the implementation of the decision, made in 2013 [3], to recognise decent work as a priority area for Belgian cooperation. Our role, as Belgian trade unions and members of the PCTD, is now to ensure that this note is appropriated and implemented through the three channels for Belgian cooperation funding: governmental, non-governmental and multilateral. We shall keep a close eye on the balance of support given to each of the four pillars of the Decent Work Agenda, to ensure consideration for their indissociable nature and equal importance.

The note was presented in Brussels with the participation of Belgian cooperation minister Caroline Gennez, ILO director-general Gilbert Houngbo, DGD director-general Heidy Rombouts, UN special rapporteur Olivier De Schutter, and ITUC general secretary Luc Triangle. The numerous challenges facing those involved in promoting decent work were discussed, such as socioeconomic inequalities, especially gender-based inequalities, informal employment and atypical forms of work, climate change and the urgent need for a just transition, the rise of the far right and attacks on workers’ rights. [4] The need to develop and implement strategies to meet these challenges and to expand decent work is more pertinent now than ever before.

Speaking on this issue, the general secretary of the ITUC, Luc Triangle, said:
“The adoption of the strategic note is an interesting initiative on the part of Belgium. We insist on the importance of respecting the fundamental ILO Conventions, as they constitute the basis for an environment that enables trade unions to work.”

The participants repeatedly stressed the importance, as part of the decent work strategy, of guaranteeing trade union freedoms and strengthening the voice of workers, which has been weakened by the general narrowing of the space for civil society, and ensuring that it is heard. Another strategic priority that emerged from the discussions was access to universal social protection.

With the publication of this note, Belgium is taking another step forward in its commitment to implementing the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda. In September 2023, the Belgian government had already announced its intention to provide €3 million in support for the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transitions.

On 12 January 2024, Minister Gennez took advantage of the launch of the strategic note on decent work to announce that Belgium would also support the Global Coalition for Social Justice project called for by the director-general of the ILO, Gilbert F. Houngbo. We fully support the ILO’s intention to better integrate social justice goals into all United Nations activities. Belgian trade unions nevertheless hope that this greater integration will not be at the expense of the ILO’s specific features, such as its unique tripartite structure, its mandate to protect workers through the promotion and supervision of existing international labour standards, and the adoption of new standards that reflect and respond to the new challenges in the world of work.


[1The six other members of the PCTD are: Mutualité Chrétienne, Solidaris, WSM, FOS, Solsoc and Oxfam.

[2The Belgian Decent Work Coordination Platform (PCTD) aims to ensure effective activity coordination and consultation between all those involved in the Decent Work Joint Strategic Framework of Belgium’s development cooperation agency, at both operational and strategic levels.

[3Decent work is one of the three priority issues set out in the Belgian law on development cooperation of 19 March 2013 (chapter 1; art. 2, 21°).

[4ITUC Global Rights Index 2023.