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Monday, August 8, 2022

Spanish Public Sector On Strike Against Austerity Plan

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Spanish public sector workers are holding a strike in protest against an average 5% cut in pay that comes into effect this month.

The cuts are part of a government austerity package aimed at reducing the country’s budget deficit, swollen by almost two years of recession.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of Madrid’s finance ministry blowing horns and chanting slogans.

Spanish unions said 75-80% of public sector workers had joined the strike.

The labour ministry, however, put the figure at 16%.

“This government is totally inept,” said protester Alfredo Barrero Sanchez, 55.

He accused the government of ignoring the crisis until it was too late.

“In the end, look what has happened to this country,” he told Associated Press news agency.

Spain has suffered one of the toughest recessions in the EU, and has its highest unemployment rate. It recently had its credit rating downgraded, amid fears it could follow Greece into a debt crisis.

More than 2.5 million Spaniards work in the public sector, and the strikes were reported to be affecting hospitals and schools, fire stations and local government. Emergency responders were providing minimum services.

With a budget deficit currently running over 11%, the government is under pressure from the EU to slash spending.

In May, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced a 5% cut in public sector pay, starting this month. Salaries will be frozen in 2011.

There were also big cuts in public investment and development aid. Some pensions were frozen.

The cuts are part of a 15bn euro (£12bn; $18bn) package of austerity measures also meant to reassure the financial markets that Spain will meet its debts.
Testing public mood

Trade unions are angry that public sector workers are being penalised.

They accuse the Socialist Party of reneging on previous promises, and taking desperate measures now – after insisting for months that Spain would be relatively unaffected by the economic crisis.

The government is due to unveil on Wednesday plans to free up the labour market, by making it easier to hire and fire workers, in an attempt to stimulate growth.

The unions have threatened a general strike if those measures go ahead.

In recent months, Greece has been hit by mass strikes and protests over austerity measures imposed to combat a debt crisis that has shaken the 16-member eurozone.

Germany on Monday announced 86bn euros in cuts by 2014 – its biggest budget cut since World War II, and the latest in a series of austerity plans being hatched across the eurozone.

Britain, the Republic of Ireland, Portugal and Italy have also announced austerity programmes.

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