With a 24-hour strike due to take place in Belgium from 22:00 Tuesday to 22:00 Wednesday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet have given written assurances that the financing plans for the sector will be made clear by mid-October.
Rail unions are taking industrial action in the face of staff shortages and declining work conditions. They had previously called for the government to adapt their rail budget and grant them more resources for recruiting staff. Unions say this has not been reviewed since 2008.
The strike (initially scheduled for 18 October) will pressure on budget talks currently underway within the core cabinet. De Croo and Gilkinet have stated the intention to set "multi-year budgetary trajectories" for the management contracts with railway company SNCB and rail network operator Infrabel. They hope that these will relieve pressure on rail operators.
Yet unions were less positive about the announcements, arguing that a statement of intent "falls short of a budgetary guarantee". To this end, they continue to insist that the government must provide "service and performance contracts for SNCB and Infrabel" as proof of their commitment.
Not a direct responsibility of the government
Budgetary discussions should be completed by 15 October. Yet the government denies that practical matters of staffing and working conditions are their direct responsibility.
"The concrete working conditions and organisation of work do not seem to us to be a direct responsibility of the government," De Croo and Gilkinet wrote. Instead, they asserted that this is down to rail companies and the unions.
The dispute over whether the government or rail operators are responsible for the decline in working conditions has done nothing to assuage unions, who have stated that they will only call off the strikes if given concrete commitments from the government.
During the strike, a minimum service requirement will be in place. It should be clear by Monday evening at the latest which trains will be running.