Belgium at a standstill in nation-wide strike
28 October 2005
BRUSSELS — Belgium’s unions have gone out on strike, bringing the nation to an economic standstill as a dispute with the federal government over its social security and pension reforms reaches flashpoint.
Workers started downing tool across the nation on Thursday night and strikes will continue until midnight on Friday.
An estimated 80,000 protestors also demonstrated in Brussels on Friday. Motorists are advised to expect delays in and around the city.
There are few problems being reported with train traffic, but very few buses from transport authority De Lijn in Flanders were operating. Only a few buses and trams were operating in the capital. All Brussels metro stations were closed.
“All trains have departed and are operating as per normal,” NMBS-SNCB spokeswoman Leen Uyterhoeven said in Brussels shortly after 7am on Friday.
She warned, however, that regional delays cannot be ruled out, newspaper ‘De Standaard’ reported.
In the province of Antwerp, very few buses and no trams were operating. The same scenario was being reported across Flanders, with trams and buses grinding to a standstill.
For information about public transport, commuters can visit the website www.delijn.be or ring 070 220 200.
In Brussels, no metros were operating and every metro station was closed, transport authority MIVB-STIB said.
Only one tram was operating on route 44 and several buses were operating on lines 42, 95 and 38 on Friday morning. However, MIVB-STIB said those buses and trams might soon return to the depot and stay there for the day.
Zaventem Airport in Brussels was still operational and accessible as per normal. No flight delays were reported early on Friday and fears of union blockades did not materialise.
However, passengers were being advised to arrive on time. Due to the fact delays could not be ruled out, SN Brussels Airline offered passengers with a 28 October ticket the possibility to change their flight to another date free of charge.
In other sectors, teachers were on strike and the Belgian postal authority was offering only limited services. Most hospitals worked according to Sunday rosters.
Strike action started late on Thursday night when workers refused to start the nightshift at the Opel car manufacturing plant.
Workers at the large chemical companies at the Antwerp harbour went out on strike, as did dockworkers, Flemish broadcaster VRT reported.
Belgium’s three trade union federations are protesting against the federal government’s ‘generation pact’ aimed at retaining older workers, boosting youth employment and refinancing the social security system.
Unions are primarily angered by plans to lift the minimum early retirement age from 58 to 60.
Friday’s industrial action comes after a national strike was held on 7 October, but Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has refused to amend his generation pact, defiantly declaring the reforms are necessary.
[Copyright Expatica News 2005]
Subject: Belgian news