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Court of appeal decision threatens right to strike in Belgium

11 July, 2019An appeals court in Belgium has upheld the conviction of trade unionist Bruno Verlaeckt for his role in a demonstration in Antwerp three years ago. The ruling on 26 June 2019 effectively criminalizes the right to strike in contradiction with European and international labour law.

Bruno Verlaeckt, president of the Antwerp branch of IndustriALL Global Union’s Belgian affiliate, La Centrale Générale - ABVV-FGTB, was found guilty of “malicious obstruction of traffic” after his union blocked roads to the port of Antwerp in a protest in 2016. The strikers were confronted by police who broke up the demonstration and arrested union leaders.

An ABVV-FGTB representative said;

“For us, the unions, this conviction is a real slap in the face, because in the future such actions will become almost impossible if we are threatened with criminal prosecution… This judgment lacks any sense of justice, constitutes a serious threat to the right to strike and is contrary to European case law, so the FGTB has every intention of going to appeal.

“We refuse to accept that the only weapon we have, the right to strike and picket, is taken away, and that courageous activists like our union representatives are criminalized. It's going too far!”

ABVV-FGTB (stop criminalizing social action)

The FGTB have until the 25 July 2019 to go to the Supreme Court of Belgium. The Supreme Court has the power to annul a judgment only if the court of appeal has not correctly interpreted or applied certain legal rules. In this case, the judgment can be annulled and returned by the Supreme Court to another court of appeal. This court would then have to re-evaluate the merits of the case.

"Organized and non-violent action in public places is a fundamental trade union right that must be preserved. The conviction of Bruno Verlaeckt is an infringement of trade union freedoms. IndustriALL condemns the ruling of the Belgian court and expresses solidarity with trade unions, anywhere in the world, struggling to preserve the fundamental right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” said Valter Sanches, IndustriALL general secretary

At IndustriALL's World Conference for the Chemical Industries in Istanbul this June, 230 participants from 45 countries also voiced their support and solidarity with Bruno Verlaeckt.