Brussels firefighters are demonstrating against status changes and potential salary cuts. Credit: Gabriela Galindo/The Brussels Times
Firemen in Brussels staged a new round of small protests on Thursday, after a series of grand demonstrations that brought traffic in the city to a standstill on Wednesday saw them hose down a government cabinet building and walk away unsatisfied.
On Thursday morning, residents spotted the firefighters in the northern municipality of Evere bursting fire hydrants. In Anderlecht, sightings of a large cloud of smoke suggested the firefighters had repeated their Wednesday stunt of setting a controlled fire ablaze in protest.
With the brigade set to be transferred under the competency of the federal authorities, the firemen are lashing out against a potential slashing of special bonuses, which could see their monthly wages sharply reduced.
“There are bonuses that risk being to be suppressed — for nothing, just to save money,” a member of the fire brigade told The Brussels Times on Wednesday.
The bonuses in question are destined to specialized members of the brigade, such as the mountaineer fire crew, the divers or the explosives teams.
The potential suppression of the bonuses has reportedly been advanced as a potential solution to a 2018 court ruling which found that the SIAMU, Brussels’ emergency response operator, was heavily in debt to federal social security bureau.
While the amount has not been officially confirmed, media reports have suggested the debt could be as high as €30 million.
“Firefighters are simply asking to be to keep their salaries and to continue doing their job in dignity,” a firefighter told BX1, calling out local authorities for wanting to solve a “mismanaged budget” by reducing their wages.
Cécile Jodogne, Brussels State Secretary of Emergency Response Services said that there was “no intention to ask [fire brigade] members to reimburse the debt,” but that it was necessary to find a “new system” as the transfer was carried out.
Negotiations between unions and local authorities are set to continue on Friday, and firefighters on Wednesday said that they were not ruling out demonstrating again on that day.