Belgium: New strikes launched against austerity

Brussels, May 31.

Parts of Belgium came to a halt as transport strikes by public sectors workers intensified on May 31. Workers are protesting against the government's social and economic policies, which includes budget cuts.

By May 31, train drivers had been on strike for six consecutive days, causing serious disruptions in the capital of Brussels, where only limited services of buses, metros and trams were running.

Thousands of workers, including transport workers, teachers and firefighters, gathered for large protests in Brussels and Ghent that day, calling attention to the centre-right government's cuts to public services.

In the French-speaking south of Wallonia, there were almost no trains running. In the Dutch-speaking regions of the north, about 50% of services were reportedly running normally.

Over the previous week, an estimated 60,000 protesters had demonstrated against the government. Several trade unions have been protesting against government changes to labour laws.

This includes plans to raise the retirement age; to make it easier for companies to employ workers on part-time and short-term contracts; and to extend the working week to 45 hours.

Trade unions argue that the changes are an attack on Belgium's welfare state and will lead to the introduction of zero-hour contracts for workers.

“They keep on taking away the few advantages we got, and we feel an increasing pressure at work, so we are completely stretched,” said a postal service worker according to ABC News.

The General Federation of Belgian Labour, a union with an estimated 1.5 million members, called for a general strike on June 24 to protest against “austerity and labour-market flexibility”.

[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]

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