Wednesday’s national demonstration against government proposals for pensions reform is expected to have widespread repercussions on public services, especially public transport. Alone among public transport providers, the national rail service SNCB/NMBS actually laid on extra trains to bring demonstrators to the capital to take part in the demonstration. Meanwhile the three regional public transport authorities De Lijn (Flanders), Stib/MIVB (Brussels) and TEC (Wallonia) were all reporting mild to severe disruption.
The demonstration was due to start from Brussels North station at 1100, passing through the centre of town and culminating at Brussels South station around 1400. Motorists were warned of likely problems in reaching the city centre, and advised to use public transport instead.
However public transport itself was disrupted. As reported elsewhere, the Brussels network was seriously curtailed, with limited metro, tram and bus services.
On the Flemish network De Lijn, two out of three drivers turned up for work, the company said, although services will be affected variously according to the local area. Buses from Brussels to Leuven and back, for example, were mostly not running; the bus between Antwerp and Turnhout was virtually unmanned. Passengers were advised to keep up to date via the De Lijn website and Twitter feed.
On the TEC network, the company reported no buses running in Charleroi, one in five in Mons, and 62% on average in Walloon Brabant as a whole.
Unions are protesting at government plans to reform the pension regime, which they argue will mean less pension for people who at the same time will be required to work longer. The reforms would also remove advantages for people in jobs now considered heavy work and for public-sector employees, while introducing a points system which would make it impossible to predict how much pension any given worker would later be entitled to.
Meanwhile the second day of a strike by pilots of Brussels Airlines saw a similar result to the first day on Monday: only 25% of flights operating, with 280 flights cancelled and 29,000 passengers left stranded. The airline offers affected passengers a full refund, a change in reservation or the possibility of a free flight on another airline. Brussels Airlines said “most passengers” had been accommodated by one or other of the options.