Brussels hospitals announce strike against mandatory vaccination

Brussels hospitals announce strike against mandatory vaccination
Credit: UZ Brussel

The government is facing a backlash against its decision to make vaccination mandatory for healthcare workers, first from political parties, and now also from trade unions representing hospital staff.

Two socialist trade union branches – BBTK and ACOD – jointly submitted a strike notification for the Brussels hospitals in response to the government’s decision to impose sanctions, such as possible dismissal, on healthcare workers who are not vaccinated by 1 April 2022.

The federal government announced that staff members who are not vaccinated by this deadline will be dismissed and will lose their licence to practice their profession.

The unions said they are appalled by these sanctions and have denounced the possibility of dismissal in a sector not only affected by staff shortages but also on the front line of the fight against the coronavirus.

“It is unacceptable to dismiss some people and increase/degrade the workload of others,” the unions said, according to Belga News Agency.

The strike notice will apply to all workers in private and public hospitals in Brussels and also covers actions that would be taken out of dissatisfaction with other issues, such as high work pressure, staff shortages and budget cuts, all of which are “making the work unbearable.”

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The French-speaking Christian public sector trade union CSC already submitted a strike notification for the Walloon hospitals on Thursday.

Dismissing health care personnel who have not been vaccinated can also become a legal minefield, according to Ellen Van Grunderbeek, lawyer for HR service provider Acerta, who highlighted the fact that some may not get vaccinated for medical or religious reasons, while others may only refuse a third shot.

“In a sector that is already struggling with staff shortages due to sick leave and labour shortages, among other things, it will be all the more important to quickly provide a legally sound answer to the above questions,” she said, stressing that exceptions to the obligation must be specified, and that job changes for unvaccinated employees also have to be considered.

Political resistance

The strike announcement came on the same day that the federal government is holding parliamentary discussions on mandatory vaccination for health care workers.

Governing socialist party PS continues to resist an obligation that would only target healthcare personnel, citing an opposition against the dismissal of those who refuse to get vaccinated so long as it is not mandatory for the entire population, and instead proposed a suspension of work contracts from April 2022 onwards.

Even the Dutch-speaking equivalent of PS, Vooruit, has expressed frustration with PS resistance. “Withdrawing and renegotiating decisions in such a way, that’s not policy,” the party’s chair Connor Rousseau told Radio 1 on Friday.

“I am in favour of the decision as it was taken. We are already losing a lot of time with political squabbling. Decisions that are taken are carried out. It is still a crisis,” he said, adding that this should be taken a step further, sticking to his stance that vaccination should be compulsory for all.

However, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has already closed the door on the possibility to introduce this measure multiple times.

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