September 29, 2016 / 1:13 PM / 3 years ago

Thousands of Belgian workers march against planned labor law changes

A man wears a mask depicting Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel during a protest over the government's reforms and cost-cutting measures, in Brussels, Belgium September 29, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Belgian workers marched through Brussels on Thursday to mark the second anniversary of a center-right government that plans to extend the working week and abandon a scheduled wage increase.

The protest, the fourth against the government in two years, saw workers dressed in the green or red of respective unions march across the city center from north to south.

Police said the turnout was 45,000 and unions put the figure at 70,000. The march closed some of Brussels’ main roads.

“The aim of today is to make... the government stop targeting workers and start targeting tax evasion,” said Sophie Van De Velde of the public sector CGSP union.

In July, the government said it planned to allow a working week of up to 45 hours for limited periods, a move unions said would weaken workers’ rights. The maximum now is 38 hours.

The government is also considering skipping a round of automatic wage hikes for a second time to make Belgium more competitive. Belgium and Luxembourg operate a system whereby wages are automatically increased in line with inflation.

Police had warned commuters not to come to Brussels by car. Brussels Airport advised passengers to allow extra time for travel to the airport.

While a number of bus, tram and metro lines in the city were closed, international train services such as the Eurostar to London and the Thalys to Paris and Amsterdam were on schedule.

Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Temis Tormo; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Louise Ireland

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