Candido Mendez and Ignacio Fernandez, leaders of the Unions UGT (Union General Workers) and CCOO (workers’ committees) in Spain have fixed March 29 for a general strike in the country against labour reforms proposed by the government. The day after, it is expected that the Spanish government presents its economic budget for 2012.

The new labour reform attempts to give a dose of flexibility to its labour market in order to create more employment opportunities and avoid a black economy where employers pay their workers under the table. But this reform also means that employees will have their labour and social rights reduced. Mr Mendez said that €œthe strike is fair and necessary in order to start a dialogue with the government of Mariano Rajoy.€

At present, a regular permanent contract has a compensation payment of 45 days per year worked after being fired. By the reforms approved by Primer Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government on Febraury 11, maximum severance pay was cut to 33 days of salary for each day worked by fair dismissal, for a maximum worktime of 24 years.

Salaries can be lowered unilaterally, and companies can lay off employees at the cheapest level of severance pay by reporting nine straight months of declining revenue. In the case of public administration it would be nine straight months of lack of budgetary resources. In this case scenario the employers will be paid for 20 days per year worked.

It will also be easier for companies to opt out of sector-wide or country-wide collective union wage agreements. This affects employees with wages above the minimum agreement of its kind, so companies can lower wages if they can claim competitive reasons.

Critics of the plan said labour reform could result in some companies firing experienced employees and hiring less experienced ones at a much lower wage by making it easier for companies to end workers’ contracts. Mr Fernandez said last Friday at the press conference: €œIt is the most regressive reform in the history of democracy in Spain.€

“Strikes are not the answer in very hard times for citizens,” Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said after a cabinet meeting. De Santamaria has already met the Unions 32 times with the purpose of getting to an agreement. Business organizations are worried about the negative impact that the strike can cause on economic activity.

Madrid has seen the protest of 500,000 people organized by the Unions in a rehearsal of the general strike. The motto of the protests was “No to the labour reform that is unfair to workers, inefficient for the economy and useless for jobs.” Mendez and Fernandez reminded the government during the demonstration that if they start negotiating, they can stop the general strike.

This will be the sixth general strike in the history of democracy in Spain and the second one against the PP (Popular Party). Jose Maria Aznar, former executive of the PP, suffered the first strike against his government in 2002 after CCOO and UGT protested the welfare reform and unemployment proposal.

The economic crisis had deepened in Spain, causing the highest unemployment rate in the EU at 23%. Around 5.3 million Spaniards are unemployed.


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