Belgium travel hit hard by anti-austerity strike

AFP , Monday 24 Nov 2014

Docksworkers carry items to throw onto a fire during a demonstration in the Port of Antwerp in Antwerp, Belgium on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014 (Photo: AP)

Travel in Belgium ground to a standstill on Monday as workers from several sectors walked out on jobs to protest new state austerity measures.

The strike was the first labour strife in the country since a 100,000 person march in the European capital of Brussels ended in clashes earlier this month.

The work stoppage on Monday was held in four of Belgium's 10 provinces and severely affected travel nationwide, notably at the Antwerp commercial shipping port, Europe's third busiest.

The fast-train link between Paris and Brussels was also disrupted with onward travel to Amsterdam cancelled completely.

Some strikers blocked access to factories, including a Ford plant in Dutch-speaking Flanders, in order to prevent colleagues from reaching their workplace.

The strike was part of a rotation of local actions planned by Belgian trade unions over the coming weeks, culminating in a general stoppage on December 15.

Belgian unions oppose a decision by the right-of-centre government to scrap plans for a usually automatic cost-of-living raise next year.

They also reject public sector cutbacks and plans to raise the retirement age from 65 to 66 from 2025 and to 67 in 2030.

Belgium's ruling coalition groups three Flemish parties -- the nationalist New Flemish Alliance, the Christian Democrat CD&V and the liberal Open VLD -- and Prime Minister Louis Michel's French-speaking liberals.

Short link: