An image from last December's national day of action

18,000 demonstrators bring traffic to a halt in downtown Brussels

Thousands of workers are expected to join today’s national demonstration in protest against work pressure and staff shortages in the care, well-being and culture sectors.  Unions believe at least 12,000 protesters will join the protest.  In the event police counted 18,500 demonstrators. Union demands include better pay and working conditions.  Brussels police and the local transport company expect serious disruption to traffic, especially along the route from the North to the South railway stations.

Today’s demonstration follows a day of protest organised to protest conditions in the non-profit sector, in hospitals, care homes, youth centres and child care, last December.  The demo starts from the North Station at 10:30AM.

The unions want Belgium’s various governments to take immediate action.  “Work pressure is increasing.  We notice the shortages everywhere” says socialist trades unionist Jan-Piet Bauwens.

Christian trade unionist Mark Selleslach: “Care workers often have to halt admissions and can’t use hospital beds because of staff shortages.  We can’t wait till next year’s elections and any protracted coalition talks.  It’s irresponsible to get the sector to wait any longer.  We wanted to dispatch a signal that we are in crisis”.

“I’m protesting out of solidarity with colleagues” says Sanne Thyrion, a union rep working in a care home for people with mental disabilities.  “I’ve got a lot of friends working in care homes and they are inundated by work”.

“It’s a vicious circle: as a result of the meagre means more and more people are leaving or falling ill and that only increases the work pressure on colleagues.  As a result the job is no longer attractive and vacancies don’t get filled.  At present there are some 7,000 vacancies in the care sector.  You notice it everywhere: we all know somebody who needs care”.

Mark Selleslach: “There’s no intention to disrupt work in the care sector.  There is a minimum service that resembles the situation on Sundays. We don’t want to create any disruption for people who need are”.

The demo is expected to cause considerable disruption this morning for people out and about in the centre of Brussels.  Police have issued a warning with regard to disruption. Refuse collections too will probably be disrupted.

Local transport company MIVB expects disruption to hit bus services in particular, especially in downtown Brussels and along the demo route. Rail services should not be affected.

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