A criminal court in Belgium has effectively criminalized the right to strike in the country after it found a local union leader guilty of the “malicious obstruction of traffic" following a national trade union picket close to the port of Antwerp two years ago.
A second trade union activist was cleared of charges.
The ruling on 29 June 2018 against Bruno Verlaeckt, President of the Antwerp branch of IndustriALL Global Union’s Belgian affiliate, ABVV- FGTB, came despite the peaceful protest on 24 June 2016 that included picket lines on some access routes to the port.
In a statement following the court decision, ABVV-FGTB said:
“For us unions, this conviction is a real slap because such actions will become almost impossible in the future on the grounds that they would be threatened by criminal prosecution. The defense of workers' interests must apparently give way to the absolute freedom of motorists to circulate without hindrance and in all circumstances.”
IndustriALL’s assistant general secretary, Kemal Özkan, said:
“This court ruling is completely unacceptable and sets a dangerous precedent. The right to strike is sacrosanct for trade unions, and if this right is taken away in Belgium, at the heart of Europe, it can happen anywhere.”
The ruling follows a creeping crackdown on the right to strike in Europe as witnessed at Airbus in Spain, when eight trade unionists were jailed for striking, among other cases in France and Greece.
ABVV-FGTB plans to appeal the decision.