by Associated Press | February 13, 2019
BRUSSELS (AP) - A national strike to demand higher pay has paralyzed airports, seaports and rail traffic in Belgium, while hundreds of factories are shut down for the day. Trade unions are protesting limits on wage increases during times of economic growth and want better conditions for early retirement, minimum wages and better education on the job.
The center-right government of Charles Michel is not in a position to forcefully react to such demands at the moment, since it is in a caretaker capacity after the coalition broke down late last year.
There were almost no flights landing at or departing from Belgian airports on Wednesday, since air-traffic controllers could not guarantee safety with a skeleton staff.
On Tuesday, Belgium's air-traffic control authority said it was shutting down the country's airspace for 24 hours due to staffing uncertainties caused by a nationwide strike. The authority, called Skeyes, said it was forced to shut down Belgian airspace from 10:00 p.m. (2100 GMT) Tuesday until 10:00 p.m. Wednesday. It said in a statement that it "does not have sufficient insight into the staffing levels during the industrial action that will start tonight."
Belgian rail and other public transport systems are due to be hit hard during the 24-hour strike called by unions after the breakdown of wage talks. Police, postal and hospital services also will be affected. International trains like the Eurostar, Thalys and TGV services are unlikely to be disrupted.
An estimated 650 flights pass through the main Brussels airport each day. Authorities there have warned that no flights will be operating and have asked passengers not to come to the airport. Brussels airport spokeswoman Natalie Pierard, told CNN: "591 flights were expected to leave and enter Brussels, so we are looking at a little over 600 flights being affected altogether."
European air-traffic authority Eurocontrol will manage all flights over Belgian territory above an altitude of 24,600 feet.