A nationwide strike over the cost of living has increased traffic congestion in much of Belgium and hit companies.
On Wednesday, a nationwide strike that has raised the cost of living caused traffic in much of Belgium to languish and affected businesses amid runaway inflation and a surge in energy bills related to the Ukrainian war.
Major unions have united calls for higher wages as severe transport disruptions hit the country of 11.5 million inhabitants, where inflation is at its highest level since the mid-1970s.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent oil and gas prices soaring as countries reject Russian energy and reduced supplies wreak havoc on markets. Rising prices are driving global inflation while boosting profits for energy companies.
The union insists workers must be protected from rising prices that have pushed up energy and food prices and pushed many to the brink of poverty.
“The price of electricity, gas, food has skyrocketed over the past year. Because of the war, but also because companies have seized the opportunity to further increase their profits,” said the Christian Democrats union ACV.
“By contrast, wage increases have not been allowed for years…this has to stop. We need price caps on gas and electricity,” it added.
Most trains and public city transport have been reduced to a minimum, increasing rush hour congestion and keeping many people from reaching their workplaces.
At Brussels Airport, 60% of flights were cancelled, while Charleroi Airport was closed.
In Brussels, the capital with most EU institutions, only one metro line is running and buses and trams have also been disrupted.
Staff at about two-thirds of hospitals in the French-speaking Wallonia region and Brussels joined the fight, with non-emergency appointments and surgeries being delayed, the CSC union said.
A nationwide strike has also disrupted businesses as workers picket lines in supermarkets and shopping malls.
The federal government has taken several steps to ease the plight of society’s poorest, ensuring they don’t have to bear the brunt of the energy and inflation crisis.
But the energy package — which includes grants and an extension of so-called social tariffs for the more vulnerable — has failed to quell the anger of thousands of citizens struggling to make ends meet.
According to the union, gas prices have risen by 130% in just one year, electricity prices by 85% and fuel prices by 57%. Food prices have also risen.
Belgium has a wage indexation system that guarantees that if the cost of living goes up, so do wages, pensions and benefits.
But unions have been arguing that the next indexation – which won’t be for hundreds of thousands of workers before January – doesn’t specifically take into account higher fuel prices, so purchasing power will always fall.