Massive protest marchhits Brussels streets
21 December 2004, BRUSSELS - Between 35,000 and 50,000 Belgian workers took to the streets of Brussels on Tuesday to protest about pay and working conditions.
21 December 2004
BRUSSELS - Between 35,000 and 50,000 Belgian workers took to the streets of Brussels on Tuesday to protest about pay and working conditions.
The demonstration was organised for the eve of major talks between employers' organisations and trade unions.
The negotiations, which have been on the go for weeks, are proving difficult in terms of defining workers' rights.
"The workers deserve more than employers have put on the table. We want an agreement that promotes solidarity and not social regression," said Josly Piette, Secretary General of the CSC trade union.
Last week the negotiations threatened to collapse after unions and employers could find no common ground on the fundamental issues of the day.
Both sides have failed to see eye to eye over early pensions, flexibility in the work place, and overtime.
Employers have already argued that there is "no margin for salary rises" in 2005 and 2006, a proposal that has been thrown out by the unions.
The unions are objecting to the dismantling of the social security system and are demanding the maintenance of early pension schemes.
The negotiations were suspended to give all parties more time to reconsider their entrenched positions.
By Tuesday morning, some negotiators were reporting that a minimum compromise could be possible.
However, some employers believe the demonstrations will do little to help the talks.
"Demonstrating and negotiating do not work well together," said the multi-sectoral federation Agoria.
The protest began at Gare du Nord, where union leaders took the stand, and then proceeded towards Gare du Midi, via the city's largest streets.
Other protests sprouted up in different parts of the country, with public transport grinding to a halt in southern Belgium.
[Copyright Expatica 2004]
Subject: Belgian news