80,000 protest against 'generation pact'
28 October 2005, BRUSSELS — An estimated 80,000 protestors took to the streets of Brussels on Friday to demonstrate against the government's social security and pension reforms, dubbed 'generation pact'.
28 October 2005
BRUSSELS — An estimated 80,000 protestors took to the streets of Brussels on Friday to demonstrate against the government's social security and pension reforms, dubbed 'generation pact'.
Estimating that as many as 100,000 protestors marched through the Belgian capital, unions also warned that "more vicious" actions will be held in November if the government does not respond to demands.
The demonstration started at 11am, a half hour earlier than planned because it proved difficult to hold the protestors back, newspaper 'De Standaard' reported.
When the first demonstrators arrived at the end of the march some two hours later, more protestors were lining up to start. The last train carrying protestors into Brussels arrived at 2pm.
Union leaders led the march and protestors following them held banners referring to government plans to raise the minimum early retirement age from 58 to 60. Other banners said there was no work for 25 year olds or 50 year old workers.
Steel sector unions were well represented in the march, with delegations from Volkswagen, Duferco and Caterpillar.
The protest — which coincided with a day of nation-wide strikes — was noisy, but passed without incident.
Trade union federations are now warning they will step up the industrial campaign if they don't receive an adequate response from the government of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.
However, Verhofstadt said earlier that he will not amend the plans — which are aimed at retaining older workers, boosting youth employment and refinancing the social security system — stressing they were an absolute must.
In turn, Socialist union ABVV chief Xavier Verboven said the protest was not an end, but a part of an industrial action plan. He said it was "a powerful signal" the government could not ignore.
Unions will meet next week or the week after to discuss the success of the protest and assess the government's response.
If the evaluation is negative, unions are threatening further action in November and those actions would be "more vicious", Verboven said.
Christian ACV union chief Luc Cortebeeck — who arrived at the demonstration at 1.30pm — said the protest illustrated that the generation pact had not been rejected by the public.
He stressed the need for youth employment and demanded existing collective labour agreements to be left intact, referring to the government's early retirement plans.
He urged the government and employers to negotiate further and warned that unions will continue the industrial action campaign until they can offer adequate retirement packages to workers.
The leader of the Liberal union ACLVB, Guy Haaze, pointed out that thousands of youths are unemployed. He said the generation pact must be amended on various points and said the fight was not yet over.
[Copyright Expatica News 2005]
Subject: Belgian news