Thousands of workers took to the streets on Tuesday in Brussels and other Belgian cities in a national demonstration called by the common trade union front against the Federal Government’s pension reforms .In the capital, hundreds of demonstrators gathered around 10 a.m. at the Mont-des-Arts, before leaving for the march through the streets, their ranks swollen by thousands of other protesters. Organisers said they expected about 10,000 people to participate in the march.
In Namur, over 3,000 people had gathered outside the train station by 11 a.m., far exceeding the 2,000 that the organisers expected. Demonstrations were also held in other cities such as Liège, where over 7,000 persons flocked to the Espace Tivoli in the morning, calling for a “fair, decent and egalitarian” pension system.
The protest was called by the common trade union front, comprising the General Federation of Belgian Labour (FGTB), the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CSC) and the General Confederation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium (CGSLB).
Foremost among the unions’ concerns are measures modifying Belgium’s pension system in the so-called “Jobs Deal” presented this summer. They are particularly up in arms an increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67 years, a change in the time-credits age from 55 years to 60 years and a modification of the conditions under which an elderly employee who is dismissed is eligible for unemployment benefits plus a supplement paid by his/her former employer: the minimum age for this has been extended to 62 years, with 41 years of service.
The federations have slammed what they see as the will of Prime Minister Charles Michel’s government to undermine the pension system. According to their calculations, the highest pensions could be reduced by 353 euros per month. “We wish to make the Government and parliamentarians understand clearly that people are not in agreement with the current policy, which has no legitimacy,” said Estelle Ceulemans, Secretary-General of FGTB-Brussels.
A delegation was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Michel and the president of the Chamber, Siegfried Bracke. “Young people, workers and pensioners are crying out with one voice that they do not agree with this policy,” Ms. Ceulemans said. “For the young people, the priority has to be about creating real, good jobs.”
This is not the first demonstration against pension reform. In May of this year, 70,000 people took to the streets of Brussels for the same reason. “These demonstrations make sense,” Ms. Ceulemans said. “For example, Minister Bacquelaine has given up her points-based pensions plan. We’re not doing this to annoy everybody.”