MADRID – Several hundred employees of Spain’s central government gathered on Friday to protest a new package of austerity measures and to accuse the administration of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of seeking to demonize civil servants.
The country’s largest labor federations, the UGT and Comisiones Obreras, also called for job actions at central government offices.
Personnel from the Finance, Defense, Social Security and Economy ministries were in Madrid’s emblematic Puerta del Sol square to rail against what they described as “robbery” by the Rajoy administration, which formally approved the latest austerity package at a Cabinet meeting a few hours after the protest.
The initiative, revealed by Rajoy earlier this week, eliminates the traditional Christmas bonus for public employees, increases value added tax and reduces unemployment benefits, among other steps.
“We public employees have demonstrated repeatedly our sense of responsibility in crisis situations, reducing salaries and accepting (pay) freezes, but always through negotiations,” the head of the public sector wing of Comisiones Obreras, Enrique Fossoul, told reporters.
“The Council of Ministers will approve that we public employees are the ones to blame for the deficit, and it’s fine, because it’s always we who take the blame for the deficit and for what’s bad in this country,” union official Pepe Navarro said bitterly.
Police closed down the street running in front of the lower house of Parliament to prevent demonstrations there, but legislative employees walked out at midday and gathered in front of the building’s main entrance.
Protests took place Thursday points across Madrid, with police and firefighters joining other civil servants to denounce the latest cuts.
The fourth austerity package in seven months is aimed at achieving 65 billion euros ($80 billion) in savings to meet a European Union-mandated budget deficit target, Rajoy said Wednesday in an address to Parliament.
The goal is to bring the deficit down to less than 3 percent of gross domestic product in 2014, from 8.9 percent of GDP in 2011, he said.
Spain’s economy has been battered in recent years by the global recession and the collapse of a massive real-estate bubble, which has left many of its banks saddled with toxic property assets.
Overall unemployment stands at more than 24 percent, while Spain’s young people are facing a jobless rate of 50 percent. EFE