Around 10,000 people took part yesterday in a demonstration in Brussels against changes to the rules on sick leave for public sector workers. The demonstration started peacefully, but descended into violence, and police brought in tear gas and water cannon to tackle the problem. One police officer was hospitalised.
The dispute concerns a change to the way public servants – administration, police, fire service and military – are able to carry forward their allowance of sick leave from one year to another. Days not used up this year, for example, can be stockpiled for use in a coming year.
The government wants to change the system to that used in every other industry: sick days not used in one year are lost, and the counter returns to zero on 1 January.
The city had been well warned that the demonstration, which departed from the North station and passed by the office of home affairs minister Jan Jambon, would cause traffic problems for public transport and for car traffic in the tunnels of the inner ring.
The trouble began when a deputation of fire service employees clashed with police on a side-track by Arts-Loi. Beer cans were thrown at police and barriers taken down, to which police responded with tear gas and water cannon. One police officer was taken to hospital, and two press photographers were also reported to have been slightly hurt.
Another strike involving public services is announced for 2 October. Meanwhile, in the course of the coming week, unions will hold talks with Jambon as well as Steven Vandeput, minister for public services.