Industry and transport hit by protests

As a result of the day of action against the Inter Professional Accord De Lijn bus services are disrupted across the Flemish provinces. In Brussels it's mainly the tram and bus services of the Brussels local transport company MIVB that are hit by the strike. No problems are reported on the railways.

On Friday Belgium's socialist and liberal trade unions are protesting against the Inter Professional Accord or IPA that sets out a framework for pay and working conditions for private sector workers. The protests have spilled into the public sector too.

The two unions say that the draft accord does not offer sufficient scope for wage rises. The Christian union is not backing the protests.

The Prime Minister, Yves Leterme (Flemish Christian democrat), has already indicated that the government will legislate to put the IPA on the statutes despite union opposition.

In Brussels bus and tram services of the local transport company MIVB are badly affected. Fewer problems are reported on the metro. MIVB is giving top priority to the most important lines including bus lines 12, 13, 14, 29, 38, 46, 48, 49, 63, 65, 66, 71 and 84 and tram lines 3, 4, 55 and 82.

The travelling public can get an idea of the situation by logging on to the MIVB website or phoning 070-23.2000 from 6 AM onwards. Certificates needed to prove travel disruption to employers can be downloaded from the website too.

In Antwerp less than half of all bus services are running. In East Flanders city networks in Ghent, Aalst and St Niklaas are disrupted with the two latter towns most badly hit.

In West Flanders there are practically no buses in Bruges, Ostend and Kortrijk. Flemish Brabant is badly hit too, while passengers in Limburg are better off. No problems on the buses are reported from Limburg.

The travelling public can consult or phone 070/220.200 for the latest information.

Airline passengers should not suffer any disruption as a result of the protests.

Belgium's roads do not seem to be any busier than usual. The protest strikes were announced will in advance. Many people have taken an extra day off ahead of the half-term break.

Across the country supporters of the socialist and liberal unions have held protest marches against the IPA. The biggest demo was in Brussels outside Belgium’s central bank. Demonstrations in Ghent, Antwerp, Kortrijk (West Flanders) and Turnhout (Antwerp) were also staged.

The unions’ day of action led to stoppages in scores of companies. Many staff also failed to turn up for work.

Especially in Antwerp province blockades outside big companies brought work to a halt.

Government and unions stick to their guns

In the course of Friday Federal Prime Minister Yves Leterme (Flemish Christian democrat) received a union delegation. The Premier insisted that the Federal Government intended to legislate to enact the provisions of the Inter Professional Accord. For their part union bosses made it clear that they were not planning to give up their opposition to the agreement.

The socialist union's Rudy De Leeuw told reporters: "If our demand for an increase in spending power is not heard, then we will intensify our protests."

Earlier Mr Leterme told VRT News: "The unions have a right to protest, but the government is responsible for economic growth, calm on the labour market and in industrial relations."

Mr Leterme noted that his government is legislating in favour of an improved version of the Inter Professional Accord that includes a number of changes to the proposals worked out by the social partners and of which the socialist and liberal union leaderships said that it was a good agreement.

Mr Leterme also intends to see employers' representatives.

Union leaders insisted that the Premier would also voice their concerns to next Thursday's meeting of the Inner Cabinet.

The socialist union's Rudy De Leeuw: "Ordinary working people dispatched a powerful signal today. People should get more pay, more spending power. It's good for the economy."

"We didn't want to paralyse the country today, but if tomorrow they touch the index, public services or social security, we will reinforce our protests."