Public-sector workers strike in Belgium, transport disrupted

AP News
Posted: May 31, 2016 9:25 AM
Public-sector workers strike in Belgium, transport disrupted

BRUSSELS (AP) — Strikes by public-sector employees across Belgium intensified Tuesday, with train and bus services disrupted along with schools, prisons and mail delivery as workers protested against the government's social and economic policies.

Belgium's state railway said that domestic services in the country's French-speaking south ground to a halt on Tuesday, the sixth consecutive day of walkouts. Forty percent of the trains in the Dutch-speaking north were still running.

Thousands gathered for demonstrations in Brussels and Ghent, and a union threatened to continue its rail strike at least until the weekend.

Last week already, some 60,000 protesters demonstrated against the center-right government's policies, which trade unions say cut deep into the foundations of Belgium's welfare state. Those include an increase in the retirement age and more flexibility in labor hours.

Tuesday was the first day of a strike in which all public-sector workers were urged to walk off their jobs. In recent days and weeks, unions' actions focused largely on single-sector strikes by prison personnel, police and train workers.

"It is important to show that we do not agree with the government's measures," said Jean-Marie Balon, who works in the postal service. "They keep on taking away the few advantages we got, and we feel an increasing pressure at work, so we are completely stretched."

While the willingness to strike has been much more pronounced in French-speaking Wallonia in the south, the strikes have also affected daily life in northern, Dutch-speaking Flanders.

Eurostar said all its trains were still running between London and Brussels.

However, some international Thalys trains between Paris and Brussels were canceled. There was also no Thalys service to Germany or the Belgian city of Liege.