The idea of creating professional chambers dates back to the 18th century. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century, that the Chambers of Commerce emerged.

In view of foreign experiences and after several attempts at the beginning of our century, the law creating five professional chambers was finally passed in 1924.

18th century: The birth of an idea

The idea of establishing professional chambers dates back to the 18th century, when such entities were created to assemble the forces of industry and commerce at the time of the first great expansion of international trade. Chambers of Commerce were established in France and England, but they were based on private initiatives and were therefore not involved in the workings of the legislative system.

19th century: The emergence of institutions representing employees

It was not until the 19th century that the Chambers of Commerce were given legal status in France. The French example was imitated by other countries, notably Austria.

The idea of creating professional chambers for employees is much later.

It was not until the end of the 19th century that institutions were created in several countries that bore more or less similarities to the present Luxembourg professional chambers.

On 15 August 1887, the Belgian legislator created the “Industrial and Labour Councils”. These councils are composed of equal numbers of workers’ and employers’ representatives.

The “Kamers van Arbeid”, established in the Netherlands by the law dated 2 May 1897, are composed of equal numbers of members, as in Belgium. As in Belgium, the Dutch Chambers of Labour are responsible for settling disputes between employers and employees and for compiling statistics relating to the labour market.

In France, by decree dated 19 September 1900, labour councils were also set up, with equal representation and operating in the various sectors of the economy.

The Italian Chambers of Labour (camera del lavoro) and the Swiss Chambers of Labour (Zurich and Geneva) are representations composed exclusively of employees. However, these chambers have no legal basis are set up by the trade unions to deal mainly with placement of workers.

Early 1920s: Foreign experiences regarding professional Chambers

In Austria, Chambers of Labour were legally established by the law dated 26 February 1920. They operate on a regional basis, in the sense that in each Austrian “Bundesland” such a chamber is established.

These regional chambers are headed by a national body now called the “Bundeskammer für Arbeiter und Angestellte”.

In Germany, the idea of creating “Arbeitskammern”, composed of equal numbers of employers’ and workers’ representatives, was also put forward. However, the joint nature of these chambers was quickly contested by the workers’ representatives, with the result that no professional chambers were ever established on the national level.

On the level of the “Länder”, on the other hand, separate chambers for employees and workers were created in Bremen in 1921, and a single chamber for employees and workers in the Saarland in 1925.

Background in Luxembourg

The idea of establishing professional chambers of employees in our country was inspired by foreign examples and the experience of the Chamber of Commerce established since 1841.

The starting point for the realisation of the project was the ministerial decree dated 29 December 1917 on the establishment of a special committee for the protection of the interests of private sector employees, and the establishment of a special committee for representing workers’ interests on 29 January 1918, the so-called “Sonderausschuß für Vertretung von Arbeiterinteressen”.

1917: Commission for private employees

The special commission for the protection of the interests of private sector employees was set up to study vital problems affecting this class of employees. It is of a purely advisory nature. Its field of action covers all economic, legal and social problems relating to private sector employees. The Commission is called upon to give its opinion and to formulate proposals on all matters falling within its remit, either at the instigation of the public authorities or by acting on its own initiative.

1918: Committee for Workers

The extraordinary committee for the protection of workers’ interests, created on January 29, 1918, was composed of activists from free trade unions and Christian workers’ organizations. Its mission was identical to that of the special committee for the protection of the interests of private employees.

In its meeting of 20 April 1918, the workers’ “Sonderausschuß” committee demanded the establishment of an elective labour chamber. At a joint meeting of the two committees on 27 April 1918, the workers and private employees took up the demand of private sector employees for the establishment of elective chambers.

During the year 1918, the extraordinary committee for the protection of the workers’ interests worked on a preliminary project for the creation of a Chamber of Labour, which served as a basis for discussions at the workers’ congress of 30 June 1918, where all the trade union leaderships and tendencies were represented and where the institution of a Chamber of Labour was demanded.

1920: A law that was never enacted

On 26 November 1919, Mr. Nicolas Jacoby, a right-wing party member, introduced a bill to establish a Chamber of Labour with an elective basis.

According to the explanatory statement, this Chamber was to act as the voice of workers to assert their claims in any field.

The task of the Chamber of Labour was to advise and sensitise the Chamber of Deputies on all matters concerning the economic, political and social interests of Luxembourg workers. It also aimed to promote the activities of institutions dedicated to the improvement of the lot of workers, the drafting and monitoring of labour contracts, to give opinions, to engage in litigation and to order statistical studies.

The opinion of the Chamber of Labour was required for all major legislation affecting the situation of workers and it has the right to make proposals to the Government, which it had to review and submit to the Chamber of Deputies.

The Jacoby bill, although based on a document drawn up by the extraordinary committee for the protection of workers’ interests, did not resonate widely in the ranks of the Socialist opposition. This party recommended the implementation of a labour council made up of all the delegates of the workers’ councils, which should be composed of two sections: one section formed by the delegates of the industrial workers and one section formed by the delegates of the regional workers’ councils.

Despite the fact that the majority was not prepared to accept these demands, the bill was adopted by 23 votes to 8 with three abstentions and exempted from the second constitutional vote.

The voted text was published in the Mémorial as the law dated 28 June 1920 creating a Chamber of Labour on an elective basis. For various reasons, but primarily due to difficulties in drawing up electoral lists, this law was not implemented.

1924: The law establishing Professional Chambers

On 10 January 1922, the Chamber of Deputies began consideration of a bill that was in fact a merger of several bills.

These included:

  • the Léon Metzler proposal on 28 November 1902 for the reform of the Chamber of Commerce;
  • the Eugène Dondelinger proposal on 21 March 1920 to create a Chamber of Craftsmen and a Chamber of Retail Operators;
  • the law dated 28 June 1920 creating a Chamber of Labour on an elective basis.

Between 1920 and 1924, the project to create professional chambers underwent several changes. In particular, following discussion in the Chamber of Deputies on 26 January 1922, the project was sent back to the Council of State.

The discussion in the Chamber of Deputies resumed on 26 and 27 April 1923. The text adopted on 27 April 1923 was nevertheless referred to the Council of State, which was opposed to the creation of a professional chamber for State employees, contrary to the opinion of the majority of deputies.

The bill was finally adopted on 13 March 1924 with 24 votes in favour, 1 against and 2 abstentions. The law was published in the Mémorial as the law dated 4 April 1924 establishing professional chambers on an elective basis.

The social conception, which inspired the legislator of 1924 in the matter of professional chambers, is based on five guidelines:

  • the dualistic structure of the professional organization;
  • the autonomy of the professional chambers;
  • the aggregation of professional chambers;
  • the principle of equality before the law of representatives of the various branches of national businesses;
  • the consultative nature of the professional chambers.

The law dated 4 April 1924 created the Chamber of Labour, representing workers, and the Chamber of Private Sector Employees, representing private sector employees.

Until 2008: five, then six professional chambers

In order to avoid the creation of too many professional chambers, which would be hobbled by a limited number of members and necessarily limited resources, the legislator of 1924 limited the legal establishment of professional chambers to five entities, as follows:

  • Chamber of Agriculture;
  • Chamber of Craftsmen (which became the “Chamber of Trades” in 1945);
  • Chamber of Commerce;
  • The Chamber of Private Sector Employees;
  • the Chamber of Labour.

In 1964, the Chamber of Civil Servants and Public Employees brought the number of chambers to six.

2008: The law establishing the Chambre des salariés (Chamber of Employees)

Following tripartite discussions, which culminated in an agreement in April 2006, the Government and the social partners agreed to converge the status of blue and white-collar workers with a view to achieving a single status for all employees incorporated under private law.

On 13 May 2008, the Chamber of Deputies passed the bill creating a single status for employees incorporated under private law and merging the Chamber of Private Sector Employees and the Chamber of Labour into the Chamber of Employees.

The introduction of a single status for all these employees is a major structural reform that overcomes the divisions between socio-professional groups that exist in our social law and puts an end to the outdated distinctions between blue-collar workers and private sector employees.

Pensioners incorporated under private law are now also represented in the Chamber of Employees.

By putting an end to the outdated distinctions between blue and white-collar workers, the single statute will give rise to a Labour Code applicable uniformly to all employees incorporated under private sector law.

Since then, only five professional chambers exist:

  • Chamber of Agriculture;
  • Chamber of Trades;
  • Chamber of Commerce;
  • The Chamber of Employees;
  • the Chamber of Civil Servants and Public Employees.

Chambers and the unions

The Luxembourg professional representation features the coexistence of a free representation – the trade unions – and a compulsory representation – the professional chambers.

Persons can become members of a trade union organization freely in accordance with Article 11 of the Constitution. All internally organized groups whose purpose is to defend the professional interests, represent their members and improve their living conditions shall be considered to be trade unions.

The characteristic feature of professional chambers is that all persons in a socio-professional category who work are obliged to adhere to a professional chamber.

The Professional Chambers exist to act as a college for reflection and official consultation through its direct involvement in the legislative process of the country.

Every five years the members of each professional chamber elect their representatives to this institution.

The autonomy of the professional chambers

The Professional Chambers enjoy the benefits of civil personhood even though they are placed under the authority of the Government.

From the civil personification it follows that the Professional Chambers may acquire, receive, own, borrow, dispose of, sue and be sued, in a word, do all the acts and transactions that their civil object entails, with the exception of commercial or industrial enterprises.

They also enjoy the advantage of financial autonomy, i.e. they have the right to collect contributions and use them for the benefit of their members.

The creation of the Professional Chambers is intended to give equal legal form to the professional representations. The same rules apply to the elections and bodies of the various employers’ and employees’ chambers.

However, apart from their common attributions, the law recognizes certain special missions of the different Chambers.