Belgian-French road blocked in protest against EU transport

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Traffic jams formed on a highway between France and Belgium on Monday (Jan 7) during the first of a series of protests that unions plan in EU countries against reforms affecting lorry and bus drivers.

Police said traffic backed up several kilometres for around 90 minutes on Monday morning because of a protest called by a Belgian transport union near Rekkem, in Belgium's west Flanders.

The union is part of the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF), which opposes proposed EU reforms that could reduce rest time for truck and bus drivers.

ETF officials said there could be more protests in countries like France and the Netherlands before the European Parliament debates the reforms on Thursday.

They added that unions in Italy are prepared to stage a national strike if the Parliament's transport committee adopts many of the new rules.

"There was a blockage from the lorry drivers near Rekkem on the E17 toward France," the Belgian federal police's press attaché told AFP.

Mr John Reynaert, deputy head of the Belgian transport union, said the police caused the jam by rejecting the union's proposal to route trucks through a parking area to distribute leaflets to drivers.

He said there were no blockages at three other protest venues in Belgium, including two highways leading to the Netherlands.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has proposed reforms that give employers greater leeway to set driver schedules.

"If this means longer hours and less rest, then it is a grave risk for road safety and drivers' health and well being," the ETF said on its website.

It said the plans also undermine the principle of equal pay for equal work in the same country for cross-border EU workers.

For example, the reform "temporarily exempts drivers from the application of posting rules that insist international workers should be paid at local rates wherever they work", it added.