Trade unions representing the army and the police in Belgium are warning of the effects on their members of ongoing anti-terror operations, with police unions even threatening to go on strike.
Belgium’s federal government has responded to the ongoing jihadi terror threat faced by its country with extra-deployments of police and soldiers as part of the interior minister’s anti-terror efforts. However, the strains are beginning to show and trade unions representing both groups are sounding notes of caution about the working conditions of their members, reports Flanders News.
Several police unions have given notice of potential strike action during the last week of February. The industrial action will take place if talks regarding the issues posed to police officers by extra deployments break down. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, Jan Jambon, believes the strike will be averted.
Citing an absence of consultation and failure to respect health and safety regulations, police unions say they have been alarmed by the Canal Plan, according to which federal police reserve officers are deployed to work for local police zones without any preparation. Unions are demanding that federal authorities inform officers properly, and make financial allowances to compensate for extra costs
A spokesman said: “Our officers were abruptly set to work in the two police zones concerned. Colleagues, who are being set to work in such places, where they are supposed to combat terrorism directly or indirectly, were informed via a simple telephone call. They were supposed to report in Molenbeek or Vilvoorde without being informed of the nature of the work or the working conditions.”
Belgium’s armed forces have had extra surveillance duties for over a year now, but since the Paris attacks in November they have also been deployed on guard duty at railway stations, airports and other places where large numbers of people congregate. Some have been called on to carry out their domestic surveillance duties before being sent on foreign missions.
Army trade unionists complain the extra duties mean soldiers have been unable to use their annual holiday allowance, and say that some have already left the forces as a result of the new conditions. Speaking to Het Nieuwsblad, army trades unionist Walter Van den Broeck said:
“These are extra duties, because our soldiers still train regularly in order to carry out missions abroad.”
While the army says it is trying to spare combat units, the unions say cuts have made it impossible to recruit enough people to do so. In order to answer some of their concerns, the army leadership has taken the exceptional step of allowing soldiers to use their 2015 holiday allowance later in 2016.