Spanish unions call first general strike under Socialists

15th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spanish unions Tuesday set September 29 as the date for 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 will be the first of its kind since the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which has thus far maintained good relations with the unions, took power six years ago.

"The UGT and the CCOO have decided ... to call a general strike for September 29 next," the secretary general of the UGT union Candido Mendez told a press conference after talks with the CCOO.

The two are the largest unions in Spain and together have around two million members.

The September 29 date coincides with a European "day of action" which will have as its focal point a demonstration at a meeting of EU finance ministers scheduled the same day in Brussels.

Mendez said the decision was taken after "fruitless dialoque" with the government over a reform plan that "will harm the rights of workers."

It is "a plan that not only does not help the process of social dialogue and a positive result, but on the contrary fuels the expectations of the Spanish employers."

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 the labour reform plan broke down last week 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.

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 Spanish property market.

© 2010 AFP

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