Belgium faces worsening strikes and rail chaos

Members of CGSP, Belgian public sector workers's union, hold flags as they march during a protest against the government's austerity plans on May 31, 2016.
Members of CGSP, Belgian public sector workers's union, hold flags as they march during a protest against the government's austerity plans on May 31, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSEELS (AFP) - Belgium faced growing disruption on Tuesday (May 31) after public-sector staff halted work in protest at the centre-right government's austerity plans, adding to ongoing strikes on the rail system and in prisons.

Thousands of trade union members took part in peaceful protests in Brussels and other cities during the latest walkout at schools, city transport networks, airports and government offices.

Prime Minister Charles Michel's government is trying to push through cost-cutting measures including raising the retirement age, but has faced a series of protests since 2014.

"We are here to make the government realise it has taken a bad path and that things could deteriorate," Mr El-Ibrahimi Ismael, a 51-year-old protest steward from the Christian CSC union told AFP in Brussels.

Pickets from trade unions prevented access to several public buildings, Belga news agency reported.

Inter-city rail workers on strike since last week and prison staff who stopped work five weeks ago meanwhile vowed to continue their walkout in Brussels and the southern French-speaking region of Wallonia.

Train services were badly hit in the south of the country while less than half were operating in Flanders in the north, the SNCB rail operator said.

High-speed international trains to Germany were halted and services to France were also reduced.

Public transport was also badly affected in Brussels while there were no buses in the cities of Liege and Namur.

Growing worker discontent in Belgium comes amid mounting unrest in neighbouring France over contentious labour reforms.