Public workers to hold a general strike on Thursday

The public sector is to hold a general strike on Thursday. This will include a rail strike. As the federal government is sticking to its pension reform plans, trades unions are unhappy with the fact that these will be voted in parliament even before the year is out. "If they are quick to act, so are we", trades unionists explain why they are taking strike action in the very short term.

The strike will probably apply to the whole public sector, although it is still not clear which services will be worst affected. The strike will also include a national 24-hour rail strike from Wednesday 10 p.m. to Thursday 10 p.m.

This morning, key ministers met to discuss the new pension legislation. After the meeting, the new Pensions Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Flemish liberal) announced that slight changes had been made to the proposals in an attempt to meet the unions' demands. He said that people who decided to take early retirement or to take a sabbatical year just before the government announced the changes, will not be affected by the measures.

However, trades unions are not satisfied with these small concessions. The liberal, socialist and Christian trades unions were meeting PM Elio Di Rupo (Francophone socialist) at 5 p.m. to get more details on the government's plans. However, it seems highly unlikely though that they will change their plans and refrain from strike action.

Mr Van Quickenborne confirmed  this morning that the government plans to go ahead with the reform as quickly as possible, arguing that enough time has been lost already during the endless government formation talks. He wants to have the new legislation steered through parliament before the end of the year and pledged to have this done Thursday or Friday.

Pension plans: too quickly, and too vague

Trades unions denounce the lack of communication. There is no room for social talks, they point out. "Van Quickenborne has not made the least effort to set up some kind of negotiation", Chris Reniers of the socialist trades unions  ACOD explains.

The rail unions also claim that it is still unclear what the exact impact of the reform will be as far as the pensions of those working for Belgian Rail are concerned. "According to the source, you hear different things. We demand clarity by Wednesday", says their socialist union leader Jos Digneffe.

"We are afraid to be confronted with a number of things that we can't see now, due to the speed by which the pension reforms are steered through parliament", Luc Piens of the Christian trades union ACV explains. "But if they (the politicians) can be quick, so can we."