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Striking firefighters threaten further action on Friday

21:33 19/06/2019

A sudden strike by Brussels firefighters caused major traffic problems in the city centre on Wednesday - and more of the same is possible on Friday as negotiations reach stalemate.

About 250 officers took part in the spontaneous strike action, with some setting fire to tyres and the wooden noticeboards used for last month's election campaign posters.

The Tervuren, Cinquantenaire and Rue de la Loi tunnels were closed in the direction of the cicy centre during the height of the morning rush. There was also disruption around Porte de Namur and Porte de Hal.

The striking officers were also present outside Maelbeek metro station, where they held a minute's silence to "show that we will always be there for the people of Brussels", one officer said.

Firefighters are protesting about the sudden removal of a tax-exempt bonus scheme - after the fire brigade lost a legal battle with the Belgian social security office, ONSS.

The fire service faces a debt, reportedly up to €30 million, in unpaid social security contributions on the amounts paid out to staff.

Wednesday's negotiations between management and unions ended without a breakthrough. A third round of talks is scheduled for Friday - and firefighters say they will protest on that day as well, including road blocks.

SLFP union rep Eric Labourdette said the important role played by the fire brigade "seems to have been forgotten by politicians".

He said: "Special teams such as climbers, divers and explosives experts are suddenly losing their premiums. At some point it must stop."

Another firefighter told reporters: "We are not asking for anything new - we are not asking for a pay rise. We just want to keep what we already have - no more, no less."

Photo: Belga archive/Nicolas Maeterlinck

Written by The Bulletin