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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
General strike plan for EU summit
Anti-poverty protests at the EU Latin America summit in Madrid
Anti-poverty protestors rallied against the EU in Madrid last week
Spanish trade unions are threatening to call a general strike on the eve of a European Union summit in the country in protest at tougher laws on welfare payments to jobless workers.


The Aznar government has broken all records on regressive policies

Union leader

"This strike call is a total absurdity...it's a deliberate attempt to damage the interests of Spain," said Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

The heads of all 15 member countries of the EU are due to meet in the southern Spanish city of Seville on June 21.

Spain's two biggest unions have said they will strike from midnight on June 20.

Job or no money

The combined membership of the General Workers Union (UGT) and the Communist Workers Commission (CCOO) is almost two million people.

The two unions are demanding changes to welfare reforms which would introduce a sliding scale of penalties for unemployed people who turn down a job offer.

Police checks at EU Latin American summit
Security is likely to be stepped up
They particularly object to a proposal that unemployment benefit payments should be halted after three refusals.

"The Aznar government has broken all records on regressive policies," said the UGT, which has links to the opposition Socialist Party.

Under the reforms, any job within a 50 kilometre radius of the jobseeker's home which they were capable of doing would qualify as a suitable job offer.

This would include part-time work and work in a field the person had no previous experience of.

Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the EU, at 12.9% in March.

Negotiations fail

Talks between the unions and the Employment Minister ended without agreement on Thursday.

"Our decision is final," said CCOO leader Jose Maria Fidalgo after the meeting.

The prime minister has accused the unions of "not wanting to negotiate".

Widespread strikes could severely embarrass Mr Aznar's conservative government, which is due to hand over the rotating presidency of the EU to Denmark at the summit.

The summit agenda is due to focus on developing a common European policy on migrant workers and asylum seekers.

See also:

24 Apr 02 | Business
12 Mar 02 | Business
25 Apr 02 | Europe
09 Apr 02 | Europe
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