The artistic vagueness around the status of artisan - Companies

The artistic vagueness around the status of artisan – Companies

Cabinetmakers, chocolate makers, jewellers… Belgium has tens of thousands of craftsmen in a multitude of fields. However, from a legal point of view, nothing or almost nothing distinguishes or protects these professionals, halfway between workers and artists, compared to other independents or SMEs.

Unlike his French counterpart, the Belgian craftsman does not benefit from a legally protected status, with the consequence that almost any professional can claim to be a craftsman in our country. In an attempt to remedy this situation, the federal authorities launched in 2016, via the FPS Economy, the label called “Certified craftsmanship”. This remains to this day the only form of legal recognition of the artisanal nature of a professional activity in Belgium.

Unlike his French counterpart, the Belgian craftsman does not benefit from a legally protected status, with the consequence that almost any professional can claim to be a craftsman in our country. In an attempt to remedy this situation, the federal authorities launched in 2016, via the FPS Economy, the label called “Certified craftsmanship”. This remains to this day the only form of legal recognition of the artisanal nature of a professional activity in Belgium. According to the ministry, this recognition allows certified craftsmen to enjoy greater visibility with the public, or even to boost their activity thanks, in particular, to a logo, a directory reserved for them or even Craftsman Day in which only they can participate. “We also found that certified craftsmen preferred to work with each other. Thus, a certified baker will generally prefer to sell chocolates from a chocolate maker who is also recognized”, we say to the SPF Economy. To be able to display the logo, candidates must compile a dossier which will be examined by the jury of the Artisans commission of the SPF. Three criteria are mainly taken into account: the “authentic” character, the importance given to manual work and a know-how based on quality, tradition, creation or innovation. And three prerequisites are essential: to be registered with the Banque-Carrefour des entreprises for the exercise of one or more profit-making activities, to have less than 20 workers and to carry out an activity which consists of production, processing, repair or the restoration of objects or the provision of services. At the end of last year, 1,925 active companies had this legal recognition valid for a period of six years: 65% as a natural person and 35% as a legal person. On average, just over 200 new recognitions have been granted in recent years, which is obviously very few. According to figures from the FPS Economy, around 70% of applications are accepted (compared to 30% refusals, dropouts, etc.). These mainly concern activities related to food products (21.51%), furniture and interior decoration (11.42%), woodworking (11.03%), fashion ( 9.94%), luxury goods such as jewelry, watches and perfume (6.99%), construction (6.21%), ceramics (5.32%), etc. “The procedure is rather simple, explains Eric Mercenier, an ironworker in Schaerbeek for thirty years and manager of SPRL Fer à Souder. “I submitted my application to the ministry in 2017. I was accepted there. down and showed them pictures of some of my accomplishments. They also saw the condition of my hands and concluded that I was in good shape at the level of manual labor (laughs). It went like a letter in the mail.” Maxime Pliester, owner and manager of the artisanal Schaerbeek chocolate factory Concept Chocolate, does not say anything else… Even if he had to do it twice to win the sesame. “The first time, I had not taken the time to sufficiently support my case, nor to go and defend it before the jury. But when the covid arrived, I was finally able to tackle a series of things that I had put off for too long, including this certification. And with a good record, it went straight through.” If Maxime Pliester had initially not bothered to attach much importance to his candidacy, it is in particular because the “Certified Craftsmanship” label Today still suffers from a glaring lack of visibility, both vis-à-vis professionals and consumers.The FPS Economy may communicate regularly on the subject through its various channels or organize each year the Day of the Artisan, nothing seems to help, so far.” It’s not something people pay particular attention to, says the boss of Concept Chocolate. Maybe I’m not using certification enough in my communication. But on the other hand, nobody ever asked me. If you ask people in the street, I’m not sure that one out of ten knows the label. It’s not like the stars in front of a restaurant. The Artisan Day is better known, but in the eyes of the general public, it is not linked to the label.” The approximately 2,000 certifications, out of a total of more than 270,000 self-employed, VSEs and SMEs who could potentially enter the criteria, tend to show that craftsmen also know little about the label. “In my opinion, there is not enough communication around the certification, confirms Eric Mercenier. I know a lot of people who work very well and yet don’t have the label. They probably don’t even know it exists. Personally, I stumbled upon it completely by chance.” Chance is also what led Maxime Pliester to have his chocolate factory certified since it was his… neighbor, employed by the FPS Economy, who told him about it. at the time. “The state should really put this logo more forward, he believes. I have the impression that we launched this label just to be able to say that we were doing something for craftsmen in Belgium…” “Basically, when the government decided to create legal recognition craft businesses, this was to be the start of a process, recalls Benoît Rousseau, legal director of the Interprofessional Employers’ Federation SDI. But unfortunately, this recognition is still not coupled with any particular measure of promotion, enhancement, or support for the sector, such as reductions in tax burdens, a particular VAT rate, etc. And from the moment when the government has never gone further, there is practically no interest for the craftsmen to be recognized. There is indeed the directory of craftsmen, but this is totally unknown to consumers…” The disappointment of the SDI is all the greater as the crafts sector is developing well at the moment. “We can see more and more citizens highlight the local economy, handcrafted products, sustainable materials… Artisans meet all these criteria. The problem is that they have to face the somewhat unfair competition from the big retailers and the industry which manages to produce at unbeatable prices.” It is however not too late to transform the label “Certified crafts” in real success, assures Benoît Rousseau. “If a development plan were launched by the public authorities and that legal recognition was the criterion for benefiting from it, then you would see a lot of craftsmen send their application.” that this would also indirectly boost the creation of new craft businesses, further advances the legal director of the SDI. “By setting up advantages, it is very likely that a certain number of people, who have not yet plan to set up an activity, are tempted to embark on the adventure. The whole economy, and even society in general, would come out a winner.” On the side of the office of the Minister for the Independents, David Clarinval, it comes back to us that a bill was the subject of a opinion of the Higher Council of the Self-Employed and SMEs. “Based on this opinion, the bill has been reviewed and the Minister’s intention, before going any further, is to organize a new consultation on the adaptation of this law and the enhancement of the artisan label, we were told. A new legislative framework should come into force for the next Artisan Day scheduled for early November. On this occasion, a new geolocation tool for labeled craftsmen should also be operational.” Ultimately, and despite the current limits of the label, all the players we interviewed are generally positive about it, believing that it is an initiative “which goes in the right direction”. It constitutes not only a certain guarantee for consumers but also a form of recognition towards professionals who have the feeling of having been too often forgotten. Belgium, many things have been done for the conservation of heritage, but very little for the conservation of heritage professions, points out Eric Mercenier. Somehow, this label somewhat defends my profession as a craftsman. But does it get me anything? I do not think so. It’s more sentimental than economic. The ideal would of course be to achieve both.” But even in these conditions, the SDI advises its members to be certified. “The procedure is not particularly expensive, and it is anyway better than nothing “, advances Benoît Rousseau. As for Maxime Pliester, he also advises other craftsmen to pass the certification. Not with a view to boosting their business but rather in that of boosting the label. “The more people there will be who certify, the more the general public will see the logo and ask questions about it. And in the end, everyone would win: craftsmen, consumers and even the State, which will then have a label that people are really looking for.”

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