Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spanish union calls public sector strike over austerity plan

MADRID — A Spanish union Thursday called a strike of public sector workers for June 2 over the socialist government's tough new austerity measures.

The public sector branch of the UGT union also called for demonstrations from May 20, the day the measures announced Wednesday by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero are to be presented to parliament, the UGT said.

It urged all "public workers of different sectors of the country, from health to education to emergency services, municipalities, autonomous communities and government agencies, to observe a general strike on June 2."

The UGT said it will ask other unions to join the walkout over the government plan, which includes a pay cut for the public sector.

Another major union, the CCOO, earlier also said it's management would vote on a strike call.

But the leaders of both unions ruled out calling a general strike in all sectors of the country.

"It would be irresponsible on our part to call a general strike which would contribute to the economic deterioration of the country even more," the secretary general of CCOO union, Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, said after a meeting with Zapatero along with his CCOO counterpart.

Zapatero on Wednesday announced austerity measures worth 15 billion euros over two years in a new bid to shore up Spain's public finances after stocks plunged last week over fears it could follow Greece into a debt crisis.

The cuts are on top of a 50-billion-euro (63-billion-dollar) austerity package announced in January designed to slash public deficit to the eurozone limit of three percent of gross domestic product by 2013 from 11.2 percent last year.

Zapatero had said just last week that he planned no additional austerity cuts.

The latest measures include a five-percent pay cut for public sector workers from June, and a pay freeze from 2011. Pensions except for the poorest will also be frozen in 2011.

The government also plans to scrap a 2,500-euro payout to parents for the birth of children, a key part of Zapatero's social platform to boost Spain's lagging birth rate.

"It is not easy for the government to approve" these measures, Zapatero said on Wednesday, adding that belt-tightening would have "an obvious social impact" in a country struggling with 20 percent unemployment.

Spanish media said Thursday that the public sector pay cut was the first since the restoration of democracy after the 1939-75 dictatorship of general Francisco Franco.

Spain's credit rating was cut by Standard and Poor's last month and it has been named along with Portugal as possible new weak links in the eurozone after debt-laden Greece.

As the new measures were announced, Spain became the last of Europe's big economies to emerge from recession, with official data showing fragile growth of 0.1 percent in the first quarter.

Spain, Europe's fifth largest economy, went into recession in the second quarter of 2008 as the global financial meltdown compounded a crisis in the Spanish property market, which had been a major driver for growth in the preceding years.

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