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Stib drivers go to court for withheld pay during pandemic

10:51 02/11/2022

More than 300 Stib employees are suing the Brussels public transport operator for having their pay withheld when they refused to work amid the pandemic out of a fear for their safety.

The drivers involved in the lawsuit are asking a Brussels labour court to recognise their "right to withdrawal" during the first wave of the coronavirus, when they claim that safety measures were inadequate.

Public transit employees were at an increased risk of contracting the virus due to the nature of their work, which exposes them to members of the public on a constant basis.

The 323 drivers involved in the lawsuit were among some 1,300 staff who refused to work until protective measures were implemented - and Stib withheld their wages during those days of protest.

"[These employees] were present at the depot, waiting for the installation of measures that would indeed protect them sufficiently against coronavirus," said lawyer Sophie Remouchamps.

"Stib did not recognise that 'right of withdrawal' and reported those employees, mainly bus and tram drivers, for unjustified absence. Their wages were therefore not paid for the days between 11 and 17 May 2020."

The union for Stib employees is now demanding these overdue wages be paid back, along with moral damages.

Stib claims its safety measures in the early stages of the pandemic were sufficient and that drivers therefore could not apply their right to withdrawal under the circumstances.

Complicating the matter is that this right is little understood in Belgian law, as there are no previous trials related to it that set a judicial precedent.

“In Belgium, this right had never been exercised, or at least not by clearly using the provision of the welfare at work code that provides for it,” explained Remouchamps.

“So it's unprecedented, in the sense that the court will have to rule on the conditions of exercise when there is no hindsight on this.”

A verdict is expected at the end of November, at the earliest.

Written by Helen Lyons