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Spain Protests Labor Reforms As Hundreds Of Thousands Take To Streets

Monday 20 February 2012, by siawi3

By Paul Day and Tomàs Cobos

- Source: Huffington Post, February 19, 2012
- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/19/spain-protests-labor-reforms_n_1287491.html#s708163

MADRID, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of
people protested across Spain on Sunday against reforms
to the labour market they fear will destroy workers’
rights and spending cuts they say are destroying the
welfare state.

Organisers, including the two largest unions Comisiones
Obreras and UGT, said as many as half a million people
joined the protest in 57 towns and cities, although
Spanish police gave no official estimate.

In Madrid, one of the largest protests since the
economic crisis began almost five years ago filled the
wide boulevards from the Atocha train station up to the
central Sol square with loud but peaceful marchers of
all ages.

"Contracts are getting worse every year. They say they
want to invest in the future while cutting research
budgets. They’re not looking to the future but to the
next election with cuts dictated from Brussels,"
university researcher Nacho Foche, 27, said.

Spain’s new conservative government began its four-year
term in December with tax hikes and spending cuts worth
around 15 billion euros ($19.74 billion) and must cut
another around 40 billion to meet tough deficit targets
set by the EU.

It has also passed reforms in the financial sector,
which force banks to recognise property sector losses,
and the labour market, which grant companies greater
hiring and firing power, in an effort to appease nervous
markets.

The euro zone’s fourth largest economy has been in the
eye of storm of the debt crisis since the Socialist
government racked up one of the bloc’s largest budget
deficits, leaving investors concerned it had lost
control of its finances.

UNEMPLOYMENT

The Socialists, trounced in November’s election over
their perceived mishandling of the crisis, made sweeping
cuts and reforms while the economy reeled from the
fallout of a burst property bubble and collapsed
domestic demand.

The conservative party says its own labour market
reform, passed Feb. 10, will give struggling companies
more room to recover from the economic crisis and create
jobs in a country where almost half of all young people
are unemployed.

The reform has abolished severance pay worth 45 days for
each year worked, a legal requirement that companies
said made it prohibitively expensive to reduce the
workforce in times of economic difficulties.

"When we designed this reform we were thinking in the
people who are out of work, who see no future," Prime
Minister Mariano Rajoy told a party conference on
Sunday.

Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the developed
world at 23 percent and many Spaniards fear granting
businesses greater powers to lay off workers will prompt
a wave of redundancies and new contracts without rights.

Rajoy was caught on camera in Brussels last month saying
to his Finnish counterpart that he believed the labour
reform would cause a general strike and, although the
unions have not called for industrial action, many at
the march in Madrid thought more should be done.

"There has to be a general strike. They said they were
cutting workers rights to create more work. They’ve cut
rights, but not said how they plan to create jobs,“teacher Alberto Carrillo, 48, said.”Before we were privileged, but now we’re having trouble
even paying our gas bills." ($1 = 0.7597 euros)

Additional reporting by Inmaculada Sanz; Editing by
Alison Williams