Thursday

19th Jan 2017

Belgium paralysed by general strike

  • All flights are grounded in Belgium on Monday (Photo: European Commission)

The entire Belgian airspace is closed on Monday (15 December), as well as high-speed trains from Brussels to London, Paris and Amsterdam and local buses, trams and metro lines, as part of a general strike over public sector cuts.

Schools, government offices and private firms are also likely to be closed on Monday. Garbage will not be picked up and newspapers will not be delivered.

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Serious traffic jams are expected around Brussels and Antwerp, with transport trade unions calling on truck drivers to join in and "paralyse the country".

Trade unions already staged a huge march which ended in violent clashes with police a month ago, when the government first announced the plans to save €11 billion over the next five years. The measures include scrapping an automatic indexation of salaries next year and raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 from 2030.

Belgium last month was flagged up together with Italy and France and given time until March to bring its budget in order or face extra scrutiny from the EU commission.

Unlike France, Belgium is sticking to the three-percent budget deficit rule, but its public debt is set to reach 107.8 percent of GDP in 2017, compared to 104.5 percent last year. Under EU rules, countries should keep their public debt below 60 percent of GDP.

In its assessment of the 2015 budget plan, the EU commission said Belgium is expected to boost its competitiveness if it scraps wage indexation, but that it "should reform the full wage-setting system in a structural way".

Belgium's general strike echoes protests in Italy on Friday, where transport was paralysed and schools and hospitals shut down for the day.

Like Belgian trade unions, their Italian counterparts were also protesting announced labour market reforms, which would make it easier for workers to be fired.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has come up with a "Jobs Act" that would make it easier to hire and fire, in order to get some of the 43 percent jobless young people into a job.

Italy is also under the EU's scrutiny for failing to reduce its debt burden, with the commission waiting for the labour market reforms to be implemented.

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