Spanish unions meet to set date for general strike
Leaders of Spain's two main unions met Tuesday to decide the date of a general strike to protest a government plan aimed at overhauling the labour market and easing fears in financial markets over the fragile economy.
The one-day protest would be the first of its kind since Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which has thus far maintained good relations with the unions, took power six years ago.
Leaders of the CCOO and the UGT, which together have two million members, were meeting on Tuesday to decide the date of the walkout.
CCOO spokesman Fernando Lezcano said Monday that "the date will be announced tomorrow (Tuesday) as well as the procedure to be followed to prepare for this general strike."
Union sources have said the strike could coincide with a European "day of action" planned for September 29 which will have as its focal point a protest at a meeting of EU finance ministers scheduled the same day in Brussels.
The International Monetary Fund warned last month that Spain's economy needs "far-reaching and comprehensive reforms" of its labour market and banking sector if it wants to solve its huge debt and deficit problems.
But talks between the government, unions and employers to reach consensus on a labour reform plan broke down on Thursday after nearly two years.
The cabinet now is set to approve the reforms unilaterally on Wednesday.
But they must still be passed by parliament, where the government is seven seats short of a majority and where a 15 billion euro (18.3 billion dollar) austerity package scraped through by just one vote last month.
The reforms would facilitate the hiring and firing of workers, thus cutting an unemployment rate which has soared to more than 20 percent, the second highest in the European Union after Latvia, and slashing government spending on jobless benefits.
Among the measures included in a draft released by the labour ministry is the creation of a government-sponsored fund for each worker that could be used by firms to pay a portion of an employee's severance in case of a dismissal.
Many economists blame the high jobless rate on the high cost of firing workers in Spain, which makes employers reluctant to hire staff and encourages the use of temporary contracts that have few benefits and rights.
UGT head Toni Ferrer said on Saturday that the labour market plan "undermines the rights of workers" while Spain's national employer association, CEOE, has also found fault with it, saying it is "insufficient".
But Zapatero defended the labour reforms, which he said "maintain the rights of the workers and match the expectations of those workers who have precarious jobs."
Spain just emerged this year from its worst recession in decades, which began at the end of 2008 as the global financial meltdown compounded a crisis in the once-booming property market.
© 2010 AFP