Belgium's public workers strike over pension reform
Belgium's public sector workers went on strike Thursday to protest a pension reform plan as the latest anti-austerity movement to grip Europe crippled transport links across the kingdom.
Trains including the Thalys and Eurostar international tracks were halted while commuters were stuck in huge traffic jams driving into Brussels, where bus, tram and metro services were non-existent.
"This is a great success," said Francis Wegimont, head of the CGSP union in the French-speaking region of Wallonia. "Our members are determined and especially furious."
Postal workers, teachers, public broadcasters and prison guards joined the 24-hour strike against the pension overhaul proposed by the new government of Socialist Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who took office on December 6.
The coalition government has pledged 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 gross domestic product in 2010.
Di Rupo has vowed 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. The parliament was to debate the reform plan on Thursday.
Di Rupo's coalition took power after an epic political crisis that had left the eurozone nation without a government for a world-record 541 days.
Political parties finally put their differences aside and agreed to drastic budget cuts after the country's credit rating was downgraded and the European Commission warned of potential penalties.
Workers in Greece, Italy and Britain held strikes or protests in recent weeks to denounce severe budget cuts in their countries as European governments scramble to resolve a two-year-old debt crisis threatening the euro.
© 2011 AFP