National rail strike to cost Belgium EUR 40 million

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The 24-hour-strike which started on Monday night has affected freight traffic, ecology and companies across the whole country.

20 May 2008

BELGIUM - Belgium's rail unions are taking strike action in support of better pay and conditions. The strike has brought rail services to a halt across Belgium.

The strike started at 10pm on Monday and will last until 10pm on Tuesday.

The rail unions are unhappy with the draft collective labour agreement proposed by the management and walked out of talks last week.

Rail boss Jannie Haek intends to table new proposals on Wednesday.

The strike has impacted across Belgium. The morning rush hour started earlier than usual and some employers are allowing their employees to work from home today. Some companies have also organised transport for the employees. Other workers have taken the day off.

Industrial unrest at a new height
The rail unions have been in talks with the management of the Belgian State Rail Company NMBS since the beginning of the year.

The NMBS wants to increase efficiency among its staff. It has proposed changes to working hours. Most rail workers will have to work more, but shorter days. Drivers on international journeys would have to work longer days.

The unions say the changes are unwelcome and point to the 30 percent increase in productivity in recent years.

They claim the changes are not being adequately compensated. The NMBS workers will receive a EUR 320 pay increase plus more luncheon vouchers in 2008 and 2009.

The unions also want more over 55’s to be able to work four days a week instead of five.

Impact on the economy as a whole
Freight traffic has come to a halt. For the port of Zeebrugge this means that freight arrivals will be down 40 percent to 50 percent Tuesday as over 25 freight trains will not be running.

The strike will also cause delays.

Joachim Coens of the Zeebrugge Port Authorities says that goods that should have left the terminals will still be there tonight pushing up costs.

Every Belgian pays…
Belgian Economy Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne says that the strike will cost every Belgian EUR 10 on Tuesday. The economic damage to the country is around EUR 40 million.

There is also an impact on the ecology because more cars and trucks will be about on Belgian roads today.

The extra road traffic will cause 10,000 tonnes of CO2, three times the annual amount of CO2 produced by a company like Volvo Trucks Europe in Gent (East Flanders).

Van Quickenborne insists that to combat such ills there should always be a minimum rail service, even during strikes.

Not too much trouble on the roads
Traffic experts predicted that Tuesday would be the worst day for jams on Belgian roads as a result of the rail strike.

The rush hour started earlier and lasted longer, but there was no gridlock on Belgian roads today. At the height of the rush hour - around 8:30am - there were jams covering a distance of 190 kilometres.

Most people clearly decided to start out for work earlier resulting in a first jam on the Ostend Brussels motorway at just after 6am Tuesday morning.

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