A 48-hour rail strike is underway in Brussels and southern Belgium. The trade union walk-out is expected to disrupt national traffic as well as international connections to Paris and London.
Rail workers began the strike late Tuesday in protest against planned reforms, which the government says would aim to streamline services and make the sector more efficient.
The CSC-Transcom and CGSP-Cheminots union argue, however, that the government is imposing austerity measures that will lead to job losses, budget cuts and a dismantling of railway infrastructure, at a time when environmentally friendly public transport is essential.
Unions across Belgium initially planned to hold a five-day rail strike, but a backlash of consumer outrage led to a restricted two-day walk-out. As a result, unions in northern Belgium withdrew from the strike.
The Federation of Belgian Enterprises criticized the strike action, calling it "unacceptable, irresponsible and counterproductive," while arguing that it would have an economic impact and harm the country's image.
Disruption to reach London and Paris
As well as affecting national transport, the walk-out is also set to affect international rail services to and from Belgium. The French Thalys network is expected to be completely shut down, and German high-speed ICE trains will not travel to Belgium.
French high-speed trains will stop before reaching Belgium, while rail services between the Swiss city of Basel and Brussels will end in Luxembourg.
Belgian Rail (SNCB) also said on its website that Eurostar connections to France and Britain will be either cut or severely affected. Rail operators have advised passengers to check online for updates before traveling.
Strikes and labor protests are not a rare occurrence in Belgium. In recent years, thousands of people have taken part in anti-austerity rallies,while road and rail transport has been repeatedly paralyzed due to numerous rounds of industrial action.
ksb/rc (dpa, AP)