Italian unions to strike over government budget

Reuters

* Unions to hold half-day strikes till mid-November

* Call on parties to change budget in parliament

* Budget criticised by unions, employers, former PM Monti

By Roberto Landucci

ROME, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Italy's three main trade unionconfederations will hold rolling strikes and protests againstthe government's 2014 budget plan, they said on Monday, pilingmore pressure on Enrico Letta's fragile coalition.

Unions, employers and even politicians from among the rulingparties have complained the budget does too little to reducetaxes, reverse years of austerity or reform an economy which hasbeen in recession for two years.

The fiscal law, which aims to lower Italy's budget deficitto 2.5 percent of output in 2014 from a targeted 3.0 percentthis year, has become a focal point of discontent against theunpopular left-right coalition government.

On Friday strikes by smaller left-wing unions hit transport,education and public services and on Saturday demonstratorsclashed with police in Rome as tens of thousands protestedagainst austerity.

Luigi Angeletti, head of the moderate UIL union, said thatto preserve his government's stability Letta had bowed topolitical vetoes from coalition partners which had blockedpromised bold spending cuts and tax reductions.

"Everything stays the same, Letta shouldn't have made abudget to stabilise the government, he should have created oneto stabilise the country," he told reporters after a meeting the chiefs of the larger CISL and CGIL confederations.

The unions called for major changes to the budget law duringits passage through parliament, where it must be approved by theend of the year, but they stopped short of calling a nationwidegeneral strike.

Instead they will hold half-day strikes among variouscategories of workers up to mid-November, when they will meetagain to assess whether the government has responded to theirdemands and decide on future action.

Letta described the unions' decision as "hasty" during aninterview on the La 7 TV channel. He said he would discuss thebudget with the unions, saying it would help Italians byavoiding tax hikes and cuts to healthcare spending.

Ruling parties on both sides of Letta's coalition of formerrivals have promised to change the budget, prompting a warningfrom head of state Giorgio Napolitano that amendments must notflout Italy's public finance commitments to the European Union.

While Angeletti and CISL head Raffaele Bonanni demanded morecuts to wasteful public spending, leader of the left-wing CGILSusanna Camusso called on Letta to raise levies on income fromfinancial investment and cut taxes for workers and pensioners.

Former Prime Minister Mario Monti joined the chorus ofcriticism over the weekend, accusing Letta of undoing the goodwork of his government and being "on its knees" before thepolicy diktats of Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right.

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