© Gregory Van Gansen / Photonews

Strike hits rail, buses and big industry

Today is a day of industrial action across the private sector and parts of the public sector. The unions are pressing for bigger pay increases, especially from businesses that performed well during the pandemic.

The Brussels local transport company MIVB is operating a limited service.  Only metro line 1 is running between Weststation and Montgomery.  Tram lines 3,4,7,8,9, 82 and 92 are operating as are bus lines 36,46,53, 58, 59,65,71, 87, 89 and 95. That means only one metro line is partially running as are 7 of the 17 tram lines and only a fifth of bus services.

A minimum service is guaranteed on the railways.  Over half of all services are running.  Two-thirds of IC, L and S trains are operating.  Commuter P-services are cancelled.

At bus company De Lijn only a fifth of services are operating.  In Antwerp and Limburg you will be lucky to find a bus at all.  Consult De Lijn’s app or website for local information.  Information is also available in Realtime at some stops.

Staff at hundreds of private sector businesses have joined the strike including Audi Brussels, Arcelor Mittal in Ghent and Coca Cola in Antwerp. Freight handler Brucargo is affected at Brussels Airport, but the unions say vaccine transports will not be hit.

The Christian and socialist unions called the strike after they failed to make headway in wage talks. The unions want wages to be allowed to rise faster than the wage norm agreed earlier in the central council for business that represents both sides of industry. The council set a maximum limit of 0.4% on wage increases in addition to the index top up. The unions want businesses that performed well during the crisis to be able to reward workers more adequately.

As the two-yearly agreement for the private sector also affects some state-owned or semi-privatised companies e.g. the public transport sector and telecom giant Proximus the strike will also be felt there.

Employers have accused the unions of being out of touch with reality by striking while the economy is feeling the impact of the pandemic.  The VBO’s Pieter Timmermans: “Is there another country on strike during the pandemic?  Who does his benefit? Nobody.”

Mr Timmermans says that if you take the index top up into account wages are rising 3.2% over two years. The VBO chief speaks of a ‘symbolic discussion’ and insists ‘solutions’ are possible in businesses that have done well.

The Flemish employers say that any avoidable economic damage during the ‘largest crisis in generations’ feels like a ‘stab in the back’.

Unizo, the organisation that represents small businesses, speaks of ‘incredible cynicism’: independent professionals and their families and not salaried workers have lost most spending power during the pandemic, they say.

Marc Leemans of the Christian union notes “it’s never a good time to strike, not for us either.  We wanted to avoid the strike and allow talks to settle the matter but since the Michel government-imposed wage restraint by law this is no longer possible.”

Top stories