From the hospital to the zoo: Belgian workers protest coronavirus uncertainty
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From the hospital to the zoo: Belgian workers protest coronavirus uncertainty

Hospital employees, zoo staff and workers in the events sector demonstrated on Thursday to highlight the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their professions. Thursday. Credit: Twitter/Milena Desse

Zoo employees, health care staff and workers in the events sector are all holding symbolic actions on Thursday, in a string of unrelated protests over the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

As dozens of music boxes filled the stairs leading to the mass events venue Palais 5 in Brussels, zoo staff in Antwerp threatened management with a strike and several hospitals in Flanders will be holding a mostly online protest as all three sectors seek to bring attention to their plight, caused or exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Health care protests in Flanders

Workers in hospitals throughout Flanders are holding what unions say is the first “online action day” for the a better financing of non-profit and public health services.

“After the applause, time for investments in care, wellbeing and culture,” organising union ACV Puls wrote on Facebook.

The union said the protest will take place mainly in Flemish hospitals and will be bundled into a live-stream posted on its social media.

Since a large demonstration was not possible, personnel will organise mostly “creative” symbolic actions to show that they refuse to get only a “pat in the back” after emerging from the crisis.

“Was that just a pat on the back? To go back to business, as usual, the day after? Back to months of negotiations before a step forward for healthcare, welfare and culture is taken?” union spokesman Marc Selleslach said.

Strike threats at the zoo

Zoo workers lined up at the entrance of Antwerp Zoo at noon on Thursday as visitors filed into the site, in an act of protest to call out management for refusing to talk to workers after announcing layoffs.

As a result of the coronavirus crisis, some 24 job cuts were announced for staff in Antwerp Zoo as well as in Zoo Planckendael, in a bid by managing company KMDA to keep their heads above the water.

“We demand a consultation,” workers chanted, with union spokesperson Sigrid De Wilde saying that, even through the coronavirus crisis, management must talk to employees.

“We are now hearing that people will be sent through the door from 22 June, that is unacceptable without a consultation,” she told HLN.

Zoo employees said that if management continues to refuse to talk, they will strike and “the zoo may close,” according to VRT.

Music boxes at Palais 5

In order to bring attention to the “deafening silence” from the government on the situation of the events sector, dozens of music boxes were propped up on the stairs of events venue Palais 5.

Representatives of the sector said many in the events sector felt “completely forgotten” by the government as it continues to go forward with plans to phase out of the lockdown.

“Since 12 March there’s been no business and everything has been cancelled for the remainder of the year,”  Valerie De Knop, an independent event organiser, told VRT

De Knop’s comments were echoed by Andy Devos, manager of an events organising company in Kortrijk, who said that the agenda for the rest of the year had been “completely wiped out.”

Demonstrators said that it was urgent for the government to provide some perspective to the roughly 3,200 companies and 80,000 jobs on the line.

“Every day that passes without a green light or without prospects increases the chance of even more bankruptcies in the sector,” a protestor told the outlet. “The situation is unbearable.”

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times