Spanish labour unions have mounted the first significant challenge to the country's new government when it called for a general strike for March 29 to protest against new labour reforms and austerity measures.
The labour reforms, passed last month, slash the cost of firing workers and ease conditions under which they can be dismissed. Workers salaries can be lowered unilaterally, and companies can lay off employees at the cheapest level of severance pay by reporting three straight months of declining revenue.
Workers Commissions and the General Workers Union called the stoppage following separate executive committee meetings.
Ignacio Fernandez Toxo of Workers Commission said the reforms are steered to much in businesses' favour. He likened the changes to labour laws that existed when General Francisco Franco ruled, from 1939-1975.
"It is the most regressive reform in the history of democracy in Spain," he told a news conference.
"It is a strike that is fair and necessary," added UGT colleague Candido Mendez.
Unions have also called for midday rallies across Spain on Sunday to protest the reforms.
A milder labour reform and austerity measures by the former Socialist government triggered a general strike on September 29, 2010, although that stoppage was only partially successful.
Before he approved the reform, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was overheard telling European Union colleagues in Brussels that the measures would mean a general strike
The latest labour market overhaul is aimed at rebooting an ailing economy suffering a eurozone-high unemployment rate of near 23 per cent.
Rajoy has acknowledged that the rate will probably exceed 24 per cent this year despite the reform, and says that when the economic cycle eventually changes, Spain will be in a better position to create jobs.
Spain's economy went into a tailspin in 2008 with the collapse of a real estate bubble that had fuelled the economy for a decade making it once the EU's top job creator.
The economy is expected to enter its second recession in three years this quarter.
One of the country's chief tasks has been to convince investors that it will not need a bailout like Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
To do this it has embarked on a race to bring a swollen government deficit of 11.2 per cent of gross domestic product in 2009 back down to the EU limit of three per cent by 2013.
But the 2011 deficit reached 8.5 per cent last year, way above the six per cent promised by the Socialist government.
In consequence, Rajoy has dismissed an agreed deficit goal of 4.4 per cent for 2012 and said it will be 5.8 per cent, risking EU sanctions.
Unions are also angry over a 13 billion euro ($A16.3 billion) deficit reduction package approved in December which brought in higher income and property taxes and spending cutbacks. Socialist-ordered cuts in civil servant wages were retained.
In addition, regional governments are suffering the brunt of the cutbacks have begun making inroads into education, health care and other social services.
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