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Major traffic disruption in Brussels as federal police protest

08:41 16/11/2021

Activists from four police unions staged a protest in central Brussels on Tuesday morning, severely delaying traffic on the inner ring, Rue de la Loi and Rue Belliard and leading to the closure of several road tunnels. Some drivers reported being stuck in traffic for up to two hours around the European district.

A separate go-slow protest took place at Brussels airport, with passengers warned to allow plenty of extra time to pass security and catch their flight.

Unions had announced plans for daily industrial action starting this week and for a period of more than two months. These will be one-off actions, such as those already carried out at the end of October at Zaventem and Charleroi airports, but also more thorough roadside checks on vehicles.

The unions are protesting in particular against the revision of the end of career agreements and against the blocking of negotiations on a salary increase. Federal police filed a notice of protest last week after another unsuccessful meeting.

A second notice, concerning the local police, could also be introduced this week. "The actions will intensify, " said Vincent Houssin, the president of the SLFP-Police union. “Initially carried out by union activists, they will then become more widespread,” added Joery Dehaes from the CSC-Police union. "All transport, land, sea and air will be affected, as will the courts.”

In a separate action, three-quarters of the 150 police officers attached to the security department working at Brussels’ Justice Palace called in sick recently to protest about their unsanitary working conditions.

"It's catastrophic here,” said one officer. “When it rains, everything is flooded, even our changing rooms. There is damp. Mice come near us while we eat. We found rodent droppings in the coffee machine, which is now out of order. It’s untenable. Where the detainees are placed, there is water leaking. Some corridors have not been cleaned for years."

Anthony Turra, permanent police secretary of the CSC union, explained the police officers’ concerns: "The police officers find themselves in an aging infrastructure which is not designed to accommodate so many people in good working conditions. This generates a lot of daily problems both in terms of comfort and use."

Significant amounts of water have spilled into the Justice Palace in recent years, especially in June. The basement where the police work was not spared.

"Recently, there have been big floods following heavy rains,” Turra added. “The gutters have overflowed, the sewers have backed up. Faced with this situation, which has been going on for several months, the members of the staff are frustrated especially since the upgrading of the building is a long term project. They are at their wit's end.”

In the coming weeks, the police can expect some changes. The authorities say they have heard their demands. Secretary of state Mathieu Michel, in charge of the federal buildings authority, said: "By the end of the year there will be a lot of attention paid to the humidity and permeability of certain walls.

“We are waiting for the permits to move forward. But even with these works the location in the basements of the Justice Palace is not optimal. We are working on a longer-term solution.”

Photo: Hatim Kaghat/Belga


Written by Richard Harris