United Freelancers and ACV-CSC
United Freelancers is a service provided by Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond (ACV)- Confédération des syndicats chrétiens (CSC) trade union which targets three groups of workers: freelancers (that is self-employed workers without any employees), those who are self-employed in their secondary occupation and platform workers. United Freelancers was launched in 2019 in response to the increasing number freelancers in Belgium. Even though these workers perform similar tasks and work under similar conditions with regular employees their status as self-employed workers implies a different level labour and social protection.
Traditionally, the self-employed were not among the target groups of the Belgian trade unions. These workers were instead represented by employers’ associations targeting small- and medium-sized companies. However, ACV-CSC observed that many of the self-employed who approached the union with questions considered themselves to be ‘workers’ instead of ‘self-employed’ or ‘employers’. The union notices that this does not apply to all self-employed workers in Belgium. On its website, United Freelancers describes itself as ‘the trade union for self-employed without employees’.
Scope of the initiative
United Freelancers provides a range of individual and collective services to its users. These services are similar to the services ACV-CSC traditionally provides to its members who are employees and are tailored to the needs of the self-employed. Importantly, United Freelancers targets a diverse group of users, which also impacts on the service provision. On the one hand, many of the platform workers who reach out work as food delivery riders or are engaged in other routine, manual work for which no or limited skills or specialisation is required. On the other hand, many of the freelancers who approach United Freelancers are highly educated professionals.
Therefore, United Freelancers offers a variety of services for workers regardless of the type of activity or sector they are engaged in. Other Belgian trade unions which work with platform workers tend to organise service provision differently. For example, the ABVV platform which was set by Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique (FGTB) provides a single point of entry that directs platform workers to the trade union confederation responsible for their sector. To benefit from the services of United Freelancers, workers must be members of the ACV-CSC trade union and pay the membership fee.
The services provided by United Freelancers can be grouped into four categories:
Collective negotiations: United Freelancers negotiates with the clients or managers of those freelancers and platform workers they represent. ACV-CSC represents their interests at the sectoral and national levels and signs collective bargaining agreements that apply to platform workers and freelancers.
Individual support: The union established a Knowledge Centre which provides answers to common questions raised by members. More broadly, the Centre can also provide additional support in solving issues that are not immediately addressed through the common questions section. Some examples of individual support relate to help with administrative matters, clarifying freelancers’ rights and obligations, checking contracts and providing model contracts. For platform workers, the union also provides help with the interpretation of the terms and conditions of the platform and offers advice on the legal frameworks.
Legal support: United Freelancers provides legal support to self-employed/freelancers in the case of conflicts and proceedings before a labour court. For conflicts brought before the commercial court or the tribunal of first instance, members themselves bear the costs of the proceedings. However, United Freelancers does provide a list of lawyers with favourable rates.
Professional support: United Freelancers can provide administrative support to its users at favourable rates.
Currently, the union also considers expanding its services for platform workers. Examples of the services under consideration are a forum for platform workers, a salary calculator, options to review platforms, legal advice tailored to platform workers and information videos.
Scale of the initiative
In 2019 United Freelancers handled 500 cases (including questions or interactions in which contact was established). In 2020, this number had doubled to about 1,000 cases. Data for 2021 are not yet available.
Self-employed workers who join United Freelancer pay the same membership fee as employees which was €17,79 per month in July 2020. Workers who are already ACV-CSC members as employees but rely on United Freelancers for support regarding their activities as self-employed in their secondary occupation, do not have to pay an additional fee.
Strengths and weaknesses
United Freelancers targets a wide range of individuals who are working as freelancers or as self-employed in their secondary occupation. Regarding platform workers, no differentiation is made in the provision of services depending on the type of platform work or the platform or workers’ characteristics. This ensures that United Freelancers appeals to a large audience. Furthermore, United Freelancers offers a wide range of services, which are tailored to the needs of the different groups of workers it targets. Moreover, the initiative is embedded in the ACV-CSC union and can rely on the available resources and support at the federal and confederal levels. The initiative also helps the union in retaining and expanding its membership base. However, given the heterogeneity of the target groups covered and of the services provided, the initiative is resource intensive from a both financial and human resource perspective.
- Negotiation of working conditions, Organising and representing workers
- Employee organisation
- On-location platform-determined routine work
- Deliveroo, Uber Eats
- representation, industrial relations, social dialogue
- Dutch, French