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Spanish report Spanish report
by Euro Reporter
2010-09-12 08:43:28
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Miners stage an underground sit-in

In stark contrast to the plight of the trapped miners in Chile, a group in Spain have deliberately chosen to stay underground. The men are two weeks into a strike to demand wages they say they are owed by their employers for two months now.

Here in the north-western province of Léon, an estimated ten thousand families depend on coal for their livelihood. “We will be here until they give us a definitive answer, not just another fobbing off. We don’t want handouts, we just want them to realise they have to pay us our wages.” said the group’s spokesman.

The government says two mining companies, Alonso and Viloria, have broken a pact in which they pledged to pay wages in return for state aid. “Morale is sky-high, we have already been down here for nine days, and there have been problem, particularly physical. But in terms of morale, we are 100 percent ok. They won’t win, they won’t beat us.” insisted one of the strikers. The mining industry in Spain is struggling to stay profitable, as high costs are making it uncompetitive compared to imported coal.


Spain announces end to budget cuts

The Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, assured the public Friday that the government was planning no further budget cuts, ahead of a massive general strike being planned by the country’s two largest trade unions.  Zapatero appeared in an interview to clarify the Spanish government’s position on spending cuts, which have been necessary to avoid a debt crisis such as that seen in Greece. However, in order to relieve pressure on the fragile economy, he insisted that his government would push ahead with labour reforms.

“The pace of deficit reduction is being met and we need to continue with the reforms,” he said in an interview with Spain’s SER radio network.  His comments come just one day after the ruling Socialist Party approved labour market reforms that would make it cheaper for companies to fire workers.

This has enraged unions that supported the Socialist Zapatero during his campaign and the first six years of his time as Prime Minister.  The unions are expected to call for his resignation, but Zapatero insists greater flexibility is needed in the economy to generate investment and productivity, which will lead to employment.  Unemployment stands at 20% in Spain, the highest of any Euro zone country.


Spain overhauls labour market, as unions plan general strike

Spain's parliament gave final approval Thursday to a sweeping overhaul of the labour market designed to slash soaring unemployment and revive the economy, despite union plans for a general strike. The new law -- which will make it easier and cheaper for employers to hire and fire workers -- was slammed by unions as a backward step immediately after its approval by the lower house of parliament. The government staunchly defended the reforms, which Finance Minister Elena Salgado said "will allow us to climb up the ladder of international competitively".

The International Monetary Fund has said reforms to its rigid labour market are "absolutely crucial" if Spain is to cut its jobless rate and rein in its massive public deficit. Spain's unemployment rate has soared to more than 20 percent, the highest in the 16-nation euro zone, following the collapse of the building sector at the end of 2008. The rise in joblessness has jacked up government spending on unemployment benefits, pushing Spain's public deficit to 11.2 percent of gross domestic product last year, the third-highest in the euro zone after Greece and Ireland.

As the law was passed, several thousand representatives of the country's two main unions rallied in Madrid to prepare for a general strike on September 29. "Now more than ever a general strike makes sense," the head of the CCOO union, Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, told the rally. His counterpart at the UGT, Candido Mendez, said the strike would "defend what the country needs" in the face of reforms that are "a step backward on rights and in terms of employment."

However, a poll published at the weekend in the newspaper El Pais said that only nine percent of workers planned to take part. Bank of Spain governor Miguel Angel Fernandez Ordonez said that while the reform did not solve all of the problems of the country's labour market, it contained "positive advances" which he encouraged firms to take advantage of. "It is fundamental now that these possibilities of improvement to our production capacity which the labour market reform creates be used to the maximum," he told a business conference in Madrid. Spain plunged into its worst recession in decades at the end of 2008 following the collapse of a decade-long property boom and only returned to tepid growth this year.

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