Belgian train strike drags into fifth day

Parts of Belgium continued to be gripped by chaos on the rail network as a strike dragged into its fifth day.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

30 May 2016

The misery for commuters comes with no agreement in sight in the dispute between the unions of the French-speaking rail personnel and Belgian rail companies SNCB and Infrabel.

The spontaneous strike started last Wednesday due to a dispute over labour conditions. Emergency meetings held on Thursday and Friday failed to find a solution and a new meeting was scheduled for Monday.

However, serious disruption to the Belgian rail network is expected to continue, warned Chris Reniers of the socialist civil service union ACOD, adding that unions accepted that they face possible penalties for the unannounced strikes.


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On Tuesday, further disruption is expected as a result of a general strike by public sector workers that many railway men and women are expected to join.

An SNCB spokesperson recommends that rail passengers take into account disrupted train traffic as a result of the ongoing strike action and follow the latest updates on their website.

On Monday, traffic congestion across Belgium was said to be at a year-high, with tailbacks up to 460 kilometres, due the continuing rail strike.

The strike had most impact in Wallonia and on rail services partly going through Francophone provinces, such as the west-east line linking the coast to Ghent, Brussels, Liège and Eupen. In Flanders 80 per cent of services are running

Travel times from Limburg and Brabant to Brussels took up to two hours and 3.5 hours from Mons.

"Motorists lost half a working day in the car", the VRT's traffic expert Hajo Beeckman said.

An accident on the E314 from Limburg to Leuven and Brussels caused tailbacks in Holsbeek as early as 6am. 

Rail staff are striking in protest against management plans to reduce the number of compensation days they receive. Management say they are prepared to make concessions but are seeking the same from the unions.

The strike and the current disruption in France have also led to problems for TGV and IZY services. Tickets that cannot be used can be exchanged or refunded. 

On Monday, a Thalys spokesperson said it was doing all it can to maintain services, but a number of changes to its schedule are foreseen for Monday and Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the day of the Belgian general strike, all services between France and Germany will be cancelled. Several services between Brussels and Paris are being axed too.

The dispute in Belgium is starting to impact on the city's busy events calendar.

Vincent Morrens, head of media relations for Brussels based communications consultants Vademecom, had to cancel a major conference on Tuesday.

He said, "I had another press conference last week (during the national manifestation) and while the trains and public transport circulated, it caused a lot of disruption."

A spokesperson for the European Parliament said it had not noticed any major disruption to its work but added, "Let's see if it's still ongoing next week when we will move to Strasbourg."

 

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