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Belgium: Strike by rail workers

Unexpected strike by railway workers disrupts rail travel in the country.

Belgian unions called on rail workers to stage an indefinite strike from late Wednesday in protest at a cut in overtime compensation.

The call came a day after violence marred a mass protest in Brussels that is supposed to kick off months of planned demonstrations and national strikes led by trade unions against the centre-right government’s austerity policies.

“The country’s main train stations will be blocked, along with repair shops,” Michel Abdissi, the head of the Socialist CGSP-rail worker union, was quoted as saying by the Belga news agency.

The state-run SNCB railroad company said “disruptions could occur throughout the network” in Belgium.

“The SNCB regrets these actions and will do everything to ensure movement of trains and limit disruptions,” the firm said on its website.

Abdissi said the strike had been called in response to plans by management to reduce compensation for overtime in the 36-hour work week for the country’s 34,000 rail workers.

Normally, workers receive time off that corresponds to the extra time worked.

Rail workers had previously announced that they would strike on May 31 to protest the economic policies of Prime Minister Charles Michel’s government.

Belgian police on Tuesday fired water cannon during clashes with protesters on the margins of a peaceful demonstration in Brussels against the government’s labour reform plans, leaving 10 people injured.

Some 60,000 people took part in the demonstration.

Neighbouring France has been harder hit by strikes and protests.

The government said Wednesday it had been forced to dip into strategic fuel reserves due to blockades at refineries, as power station workers threatened to join gathering protests against controversial labour reforms.