MADRID—Spanish unions Friday called a general strike on March 29, the biggest challenge to date to the policies of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Last month's overhaul of Spain's rigid labor laws provides the
rallying call for the protest. "It [labor reform] represents a brutal
regression in hiring rules and opens the door to free dismissals," said
Ignacio Fernández Toxo, the head of Comisiones Obreras union. "This
country doesn't need a labor-market reform," he told journalists at a
Mr. Rajoy, leader of Spain's conservative Popular Party, came to
power at the end of last year and has pursued a busy agenda of measures
to overhaul one of the euro zone's largest ailing economies. Last
month's labor-market reform aims to stimulate hiring in an economy
suffering from a near 23% jobless rate and with a long history of high
Other government measures include spending cuts and tax hikes worth
€15 billion ($20 billion), legislation that establishes additional
controls on regional spending and a new banking sector cleanup.
The labor-market reform lowers Spain's high cost of dismissal, seen
by economists as a powerful disincentive for hiring, and in a direct
attack against the country's unions, makes it easier for companies to
opt out of sector-wide or country-wide union collective wage agreements.
The unions aren't expected to be able to marshall significant
opposition to the government's labor-market reform on March 29. After
winning a landslide victory in November general elections, Mr. Rajoy
still enjoys high approval ratings.
A survey by pollsters Metroscopia published earlier this week by El
Pais newspaper showed that while 52% of those polled disliked the
labor-market reform, 67% were against the idea of a general strike,
reasoning it would worsen the country's economic situation.
Government spokeswoman Soraya Sáenz de Santamaria said she regreted
the unions' decision to call a strike. "This will not help the country's
difficult economic situation," she told journalists after the
government's weekly cabinet meeting.
Ms. Sáenz de Santamaria also presented a series of measures to
protect low-income families against eviction, the government's latest
attempt to put a more friendly face on economic policies centered around
painful austerity measures.
The measures will be enshrined in a code of conduct that banks can
adhere to voluntarily, but once they do, will be legally obliged to
follow. For families whose members are all off work and have no other
source of income, the code would oblige signatory banks to restructure
their mortgage debt, by, for example, lengthening the term of the loan
or reducing its interest rate.
In some cases, debtors would be allowed to cancel their debts once
their home has been foreclosed on, even if its value is less than the
outstanding debt. This isn't standard practice in Spain where mortgages
are typically secured to the borrower rather than to the home itself.
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