Belgian transport systems are feeling the strain of a major national strike set to bring France to a grinding halt on Thursday, as employees across a range of sectors protest a planned pensions reform.
Air, rail travel
Ahead of the strike, Brussels Airport scrapped a total of eight flights from different carriers arriving or departing Brussels and flying from, into or over France on Thursday, citing expectations of air travel disruptions in the coming days.
Rail traffic will also be heavily impacted by the events in France, with the SNCB warning online that the strike may lead to “significant disturbances” for rail travel between both countries.
Half of planned Eurostar trains are scrapped and two out three Thalys trains are cancelled as well, with TGVs between France and Belgium also set to be cancelled or impacted as a result of the strike, for which over 200 gatherings are planned across the French territory.
Additionally, the SCNB’s IC lines from Bergen, Namur, and Charleroi to northern French cities like Aulnoye or Maubege, with connections to Paris, will not be running from 5 to 7 December
According to Le Soir, Eurostar has said that it expects rail travel to be disturbed through Monday 9 December, with the SCNB issuing an adapted timetable for trains running between Lille and Brussels.
Road blockages in southern Belgium
Drivers travelling into Belgium on the E19 highway from France encountered roadblocks set up by Gilets Jaunes protesters in the bordering municipality of Hensies, in Hainaut.
Traffic was blocked on both directions from 6:00 AM on the E19 from Brussels to Paris, according to federal police reports on HLN.
#E19 (A7) Paris vers Mons à Aire Frontalière de Hensies manifestation sociale, conditions de conduite difficiles, barrage filtrant – gilets jaunes, 05-12-2019 06:03
— Touring Mobilis FR (@t_mobilis_fr) December 5, 2019
Mobility organisation Touring warned vehicles driving between Mons and Paris of “difficult” driving conditions, noting that the yellow-clad protesters had set up road blockages to filter passing vehicles, a trademark move of the social movement which has been rocking France for more than a year.
National strike to see massive turnout
Workers across a range of professions, from transport and health and security services to education and the judicial and legal sectors, are expected to join the strike, with French media saying the turnout is expected to be massive.
A total of 245 meetings and marches in cities across France are planned on Thursday, in a nation-wide strike organised by unions and workers attempting to push back against planned government reforms of the French pensions system.
On Twitter, an MEP for the Belgian PTB labour party said a support group was travelling to France by car to “express their solidarity” with French workers’ plight for “good pensions,” adding that social resistance in Belgium forced former Prime Minister Charles Michel to scrap a pensions system reform.
The reform would see the country’s current pensions system, comprised of several different schemes, replaced by a unified, points-based one, doing away with schemes which particularly benefit some workers, like rail or public service workers, with unions arguing that, for a fair pension, employees will be forced to work into a later age.
The Brussels Times