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Spanish Unions Call General Strike Over Reforms

CIARAN GILES

MADRID (AP) â¿¿ Spanish labor unions mounted their first significant challenge to the country's new government Friday when they called for a general strike for March 29 to protest against new labor reforms and austerity measures.

The labor reforms, passed last month, slash the cost of firing workers and ease conditions under which they can be dismissed. 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 too much in businesses' favor. He likened the changes to labor laws that existed when Gen. 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.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said a general strike was not the remedy for a country with more than 5 million people out of work.

"It's not the solution," said Saenz de Santamaria after a weekly Cabinet meeting. "In moments of grave difficulties for all Spaniards the government values more constructive efforts that help improve the country."

Unions have also called midday rallies across Spain this Sunday to protest the reforms.

A milder labor reform and austerity measures by the former Socialist government triggered a general strike Sept. 29 of 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 labor market overhaul is aimed at rebooting an ailing economy suffering a eurozone-high unemployment rate of near 23 percent.

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