- Title: Protesters in Brussels slam government reforms and austerity measures
- Date: 29th September 2016
- Summary: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (SEPTEMBER 29, 2016) (REUTERS) THOUSANDS OF TRADE UNIONISTS GATHERED IN DOWNTOWN BRUSSELS TO START PROTEST
- Embargoed: 14th October 2016 13:59
- Keywords: Charles Michel trade unions retirement age social benefits pensions Belgium Brussels protest
- Location: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
- City: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
- Country: Belgium
- Topics: Budget/Taxation/Revenue,Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA00151MDMBR
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: PLEASE NOTE: SHOT #19 CONTAINS PROFANITY
Tens of thousands of Belgian workers marched through Brussels on Thursday to mark the second anniversary of a centre-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 centre 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.
"What we see here is the will of the current government to increase flexibility, delay the retirement age, decrease social benefits. So all the attacks are done towards the workers, towards the recipients of social benefits -- attacks that do not aim to provide greater equality or tax justice," said the Secretary General of the liberal trade unions Olivier Valentin.
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.
Sophie Van de Velde of Belgium's public sector worker's union said these measures would spell the end for working people.
"Today's goal is to make 'little Michel' (referring to Belgian PM Charles Michel) and his government change targets - stop targeting people, workers, and start targeting tax fraud. We are fed up. He is in the process of killing the workers," she said.
A group of around 100 protesters, some masked, caused some minor disturbances to the largely peaceful rally by hurling firecrackers, setting unions' flags on fire and banging metal bars on the road as they marched along.
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