Striking workers protest Italy's proposed labour reforms

Unions to hold larger rallies against cuts to public services

ROME (Reuters) — Striking workers took to the streets in cities across Italy on Oct. 24 to protest against cuts to public services and labour reforms proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

The stoppages mainly affected the transport sector, with train and public bus travel disrupted and the budget airline EasyJet warning of possible cancellations after the USB union called a 24-hour strike.

The protests were a prelude to a larger series of rallies called by Italy's biggest union, the CGIL, on Oct. 25.

Renzi won backing in late September for proposals to change job protection rules that critics say deter companies from hiring new staff, contributing to chronic economic malaise.

Posters plastered around Rome and other Italian cities showed Renzi along with Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne and Public Administration Minister Marianna Madia with the slogan: "Let's send them home for just cause!"

European policymakers have applauded Renzi's proposals, which also aim to mend a labour market divide between so-called "precarious" young workers with few employment rights and older employees whose jobs are rigidly protected.

Unions and leftwing members of Renzi's own Democratic Party have reacted angrily to the proposals, which they say undermine workers' rights and do nothing to address the underlying causes of decades of economic stagnation.

The protests also feed into wider discontent about the austerity policies, including heavy public spending cuts, adopted by governments to meet European Union budget rules.

The CGIL has likened Renzi to Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister who fought to weaken trade unions during the 1980s.

Rome's public transport agency ATAC said that as of 10:30 GMT on Oct. 24, 14 per cent of its employees had participated in the strike. Interruptions to local transport services were also reported in other cities.

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