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Italy

Nationwide anti-reform strikes hit Italy's public services

Thousands of Italian workers are set to strike against labor market reforms. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said he will not back down on plans which would make it easier to hire and fire workers.

More than 50 nationwide strikes were set to hit schools, hospitals, airports, highways and public transport across Italy on Friday, as two major trade unions called on workers to protest labor market reforms.

Among the reforms of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi are plans to ease regulations to make it easier to fire workers.

The unions are also up in arms over cuts to public spending foreseen in the 2015 budget, which they see as dampening a recession-bound economy.

"The combination of the [Jobs Act and budget] does not promote employment or encourage companies to invest," said Susanna Camusso, head of the CGIL labor confederation, the biggest and most militant of the union groupings.

'Deep respect'

Ahead of the strikes Renzi said on Thursday he would not back down on plans to shake up the country's labor market in an bid to fight double-digit unemployment and bring Italy out of its third recession in seven years.

Matteo Renzi

Renzi has vowed not to back down

Despite disagreeing with the protesters, Renzi said he had a "deep respect" for them.

"Have a good day at work, for those who are working and good luck for those who are striking, with respect and without polemics," he said.

Renzi's emblematic Jobs Act, which was approved this month, will make it easier for companies to shed staff without having to pay high severance payments, particularly for recently employed workers.

German approval

Supporters of the Jobs Act have said that the controversial provision is balanced by reforms designed to restrict the widespread use of temporary contracts which limit millions of workers to a precarious state of employment.

They also argued that more flexibility in the labor market will help reduce unemployment from its current record levels. Unemployment among 15-25-year-olds now stands at an unprecedented 43 percent.

Renzi's reforms were also applauded by German President Joachim Gauck on Thursday.

"I hope that through these steps the Italian government will be able to once again free up the immense creative potential for which we other Europeans admire Italy so much," Gauck said.

Economic turmoil

Since becoming one of the founding members of Europe's single currency zone in 1999, Italy has encountered severe economic problems.

Two of the main opposition parties now support withdrawal from the euro and it's possible that they could even force a referendum on the issue.

Figures released this week also indicated that the weak economy sent emigration to a 10-year high in 2013, with even more people believed to have left over the past 12 months.

ksb/jm (AFP, AP, dpa)

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