National strike has a major impact, minister talks about "929 million euro setback"

While half of the trains are going, other public transport services are heavily disrupted, and the strike is also affecting many private businesses. Estimations are talking about a negative economic impact of 929 million euros. Read here about the impact of the national strike, triggered by the trades unions' demands for better wages and more purchasing power, after talks with employers collapsed. The nationwide strike is being staged by Belgium's 3 biggest unions (Christian, socialist and liberal unions). 

  • The Belgian airspace has been closed. All flights have been cancelled. Brussels Airport was open, but the departure hall was completely empty as there were no flights. "Brussels South Airport" in Charleroi had closed its doors for the day. 
  • Half of the trains are going, as had been announced. Belgian Rail spokesman Dimitri Temmerman says "we worked out an alternative roster and this is going well."
  • The Brussels, Walloon and Flemish public transport services (MIVB, TEC and De Lijn respectively) are heavily affected. In Brussels, only metro line 1 is going, but not at a normal pace. Only 4 of the 49 buses left the depot this morning, while 1 in 3 trams were running in Brussels. The impact on De Lijn in Flanders is "huge" confirms spokesman Tom Vanderveken. The situation remained the same in the evening rush hour.
  • In the schools, the impact is relatively moderate. Only the socialist trades union had called on employees to down tools. This being said, some teachers did not work (especially in local schools in Antwerp and Ghent), and day-care was disrupted, causing practical hiccups for parents. 
  • However, the strike is about much than the public sector. Angry workers are blocking the entrance of many businesses. Trades unions in Antwerp, where big companies such as Atlas Copco, Coca-Cola and Agfa almost came to complete standstill, claim that employees are displaying a lot of willingness to participate in the strike. Across Belgium, about 1,000 companies were affected, mostly the bigger players.

Activities in the port of Antwerp are 70 to 80 percent down

  • In many places, those taking industrial action are blocking the entrance. This triggered frustration among those who were willing to work, but couldn't. 
  • The Port of Antwerp is also heavily affected, as many ships are waiting to get in or out (see picture above) and as most chemical companies are not functioning. The Antwerp Alderwoman responsible for the port, Annick De Ridder, says "the port's activities have been reduced with 70 to 80 percent". She underlines the negative impact, both for the Belgian economy and for the perception abroad. 
  • Over a hundred supermarkets remain closed today, including 44 Carrefour and 68 Delhaize stores. In Ghent, the Albert Heijn store did not open. Employees argue that they have to be more flexible each time, but that their monthly pay is not following.
  • People had clearly taken their precautions. Despite the reduced number of trains, there were hardly any traffic jams.The evening rush hour had 40 kilometres of jams, which must be a record low for a Wednesday. 
  • The federal Economy Minister Kris Peeters estimates that the national strike will cause a total loss worth 929 million euros. "I read about estimations by two experts who were talking of 1.8 billion euros, but I think that's a bit much. I think it's realistic to talk about 929 million."

The impact is enormous, but you can't say the country has come to a standstill

  • What is this strike about? Trades unions are unhappy about the small margin employers are offering in the wage talks: a maximum of 0.8 percent, on top of the automatic indexation (which automatically leads to a higher salary when life becomes more expensive). Unions say 0.8 percent is not enough, considering the fact the economy is doing well, and also mention the balance between work and private life, the retirement age etc. In a nutshell, unions say the right-wing government is doing a lot to please employers, but not enough for employees and workers. 
  • The unions enjoy broad support, as today shows. VRT journalist Steven Dierckx says "the impact is enormous, but you can't say the country has come to a standstill". Pieter Timmermans of the VBO, the umbrella organisation representing employers' interests, claims the biggest impact is seen in the public sector "which is an easy sector to hit. In the private sector, things are different, sometimes the impact is big, sometimes not."