Belgium strike to disrupt Eurostar, Thalys rail services

20th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

A Belgian public sector strike will disrupt Eurostar and Thalys rail connections to Britain, France, The Netherlands and Germany, the railway authorities said Tuesday.

Thalys said all trains would be cancelled from Wednesday evening until Thursday midnight, while Eurostar said its trains "and connecting rail services will not operate."

Belgian trade unions have called a general strike in the public sector on Thursday to protest the new government's pension reform plans, aimed at making it tougher to take early retirement.

But rail travel was disrupted as early as Tuesday by angry railway workers who caused severe disruption in the towns of Mons, Ath, Tournai and Charleroi, with wildcat strikes.

Thursday's one-day strike will throw up the first challenge faced by Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo's centre-left government, which took office December 6 pledging to cut 11 billion euros ($14 billion) off the budget to trim the country's debt and deficit -- respectively at 96.2 percent and 4.1 percent of GDP in 2010.

The Socialist party leader has pledged to maintain pension payments but due to the aging population is proposing to delay early retirement from 60 to 62, except in some cases.

Unions are angry both over the substance of the reform and the new government's failure to negotiate its terms with the trade unions.

© 2011 AFP

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