Workers across Belgium have gathered in the capital to protest at government plans to raise the age of early retirement.
The country’s three largest unions called the rally that brought public transport to a standstill, halted production lines and disrupted port activities. Organisers say 100,000 people turned out in Brussels to show their anger. One union member explained the problem: “The essential factor is early retirement at 60, we want to keep it at 58,” said Fabrice Meuuw from CSC Bâtiment Industrie. “I think this is a very strong signal from workers saying No to the government. We don’t want such drastic reform,” added Philippe Persyn from CGSLB Charleroi. This is the second nation-wide strike in less than a month. Protesters claim the proposals are counter-productive. By keeping older generations in their jobs longer, they argue, the young and unemployed will be prevented from finding work. And with 75 percent of workers belonging to a union in Belgium that amounts to a powerful message. But the centre-left government says it will not budge. It insists the measures are essential to prevent a pensions time-bomb as a wave of people born after World War Two reach retirement age. The goverment also warns that it risks overstretching its budget by 2010 if it cannot keep people working longer. For the moment at least, it seems there will be more industrial action on the way as unions say they will continue to protest until the retirement plans are changed.