National demonstration in Brussels: What disruptions to expect today

National demonstration in Brussels: What disruptions to expect today
Trade union activists pictured during a national demonstration in Brussels on 16 December. Credit: Belga/Dirk Waem

As Belgium's main trade unions are organising another national demonstration to call for more purchasing power in the non-profit sector – such as healthcare – in Brussels today (31 January), a number of traffic disruptions across the Capital-Regions are to be expected.

At least 12,000 demonstrators are expected to gather at the Brussels North station from 10:30 and make their way to the Brussels Midi/South station around 11:00. Unions are denouncing the fact that employees in essential public sector jobs are being "squeezed like lemons," with no improvement in sight, announced the ACV Puls, ACLVB and BBTK trade unions.

Public sector workers are demonstrating to address staff shortages and high workloads, while also calling for better wages and working conditions. Employees of hospitals, home care, residential care centres and childcare will also strike. Still, the trade unions emphasised that a minimum service will be guaranteed in the healthcare sector, comparable to a Sunday service. The impact will likely be greater in childcare.

Disrupted traffic in Brussels

While the national railway company SNCB is not expecting any demonstration-related delays on its network, traffic will almost certainly be disrupted in and around the city centre during the morning, as the police have warned that traffic jams are to be expected.

The Brussels public transport company STIB employees are not participating in the march, "but people on the bus lines that drive along the route of the demonstration do risk being inconvenienced while it is ongoing," spokesperson An Van hamme told the Brussels Times.

“This Tuesday 31/01, between 09:00 and 13:00, a demonstration will cross Brussels. Traffic jams are to be expected," the Brussels-Capital/Ixelles police zone announced on Twitter. Drivers are advised to avoid Boulevard Roi Albert II, Rogier, Pachéco, the surroundings of the Central station, Boulevard Lemonnier and the Esplanade de l'Europe.

Additionally, as it concerns a national demonstration, other services throughout Belgium are also at risk of being disrupted as unions will march to push the government to invest more in the public and non-profit sector.

"The pressure in social profit is increasing everywhere. We do this job because we are convinced of its social importance, it is a calling. If you can no longer provide 100% of the care you want to offer, it is very difficult mentally," one of BBTK's delegates said in a press release.

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"That puts even more pressure on our shoulders. It is not surprising that colleagues drop out because they get sick or simply do not make it to the end of the month," they added. "We will take to the streets on Tuesday to send a strong signal: it cannot go on like this. This also concerns everyone because the people we care for are your relatives. It is time that the social importance of our job is recognised and that sufficient resources are provided to do it properly.”

Concretely, the demonstrators are asking for a realistic work schedule, better organisation and coordination of the workload, more support structures to deal with the physical and mental burdens of the job, sufficient time to provide quality service and most importantly: more colleagues.

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