MADRID (Reuters) — Spain pledged €3.5 billion (C$4.7 billion) over four years on Tuesday to easing mass unemployment among the country's youth, as the government tries to stem a relentless tide of layoffs and lengthening jobless queues.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy presented 100 different measures including tax breaks for young freelance workers and companies that hire workers in their 20s.
Many of the measures, such as lower social security payments for young self-employed workers and upfront payment of unemployment benefits for entrepreneurs, had been announced previously. On Tuesday they were wrapped into a single strategy.
During five years of economic stagnation and recession, Spain's unemployment rate has risen to 26 per cent — the highest level since the 1970s and one of the highest in the European Union — and more than one-half of 18 to 25 year olds are out of work.
More and more young Spaniards are studying German and English and heading abroad to find work.
Public anger is growing over austerity measures to tackle government overspending, which have aggravated economic problems, and more than €40 billion (C$53 billion) in public debt spent on rescuing banks that loaned too freely to builders during a real estate boom that ended in 2008.
With more than five million people out of work, job losses have accelerated in the first months of 2013.
Spain's 35 blue chip companies have announced more than 35,000 layoffs so far this year, compared with 18,000 layoffs by the same companies last year, according to a report in El Economista newspaper.
Rajoy spoke to an audience of union, company and government representatives at the Moncloa government palace.
But labour union leaders did not wait to hear the details before expressing scepticism over the new strategy.
"If the government does not re-orient its economic policy to make growth and jobs a priority instead of deficit cutting, the effects of the plan will have a limited effect and the economic recession and job destruction will continue," Spain's two biggest union federations, CCOO and UGT, said in a statement just before Rajoy made the announcement.
Rajoy has said any stimulus measures for the economy and jobs will not undermine his determination to cut the budget deficit in line with EU demands.
The government has trimmed the budget by tens of billions of euros this year and last, cutting public sector wages and limiting health and education spending at a time when the economy is shrinking an estimated 1.5 per cent per year.
One-third of the funding for the jobs plans will come from a European Special Fund, Rajoy said.