Spanish trade unions call for strike ahead of the European summit in Seville

Agence Frence presse, Thursday 23 May 2002, 9:59 AM ET

MADRID, Spain—Spain's main labor unions on Thursday called a general strike to protest proposed unemployment benefit reforms for June 20, a day before Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar is to preside over a European summit in Seville.

The unions called the 24-hour strike to force the government to withdraw the planned reforms, Candido Mendez and Jose Maria Fidalgo, leaders of the the General Workers Union and the Workers Commission, said in a news conference. The unions represent 2 million workers.

“The strike is against the government's aim to inflict a serious cut on workers and unemployed people,” said Fidalgo, secretary general of the Workers Commission.

Speaking in Congress on Wednesday, Aznar said the unions want to harm the image and interests of Spain with the strike.

“A general strike is a piece of nonsense against Spain's interests.” he said.

At 11.5 percent, unemployment in Spain is among the highest in the 15-nation European Union (news—web sites).

The government wants parliament to approve before the summer measures to cut salary payments to fired workers while labor courts rule on their sacking appeals. It also wants to curtail benefit payments to temporary farm workers and gradually cut off payments to those workers who reject jobs offered by the government.

The government insists too many people prefer to receive benefits rather than return to work. It says the measures are designed to boost employment, not to save money.