Huge Spain rallies condemn labour market reforms

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Media captionSpain protests at labour reforms

Mass protests have been held across Spain against the conservative government's labour market reforms.

The trade unions which organised the rallies said half a million protesters marched through Madrid. Police put the turnout in the capital at about 50,000.

Spanish media say protests took place in 57 towns and cities.

There was anger at a labour reform law that cuts severance pay and gives employers more flexibility over jobs. The unemployment rate has reached 23%.

The motto of the protests was "no to the labour reform that is unfair to workers, inefficient for the economy and useless for jobs," Spain's El Pais news website reports.

On 10 February the government of Mariano Rajoy approved a law reducing maximum severance pay to 33 days' salary for each year worked, compared with the current 45 days.

Employers will also be able to lay workers off outside Spain's traditional sector-wide collective bargaining arrangements.

Spain's unemployment rate is the highest in the EU, hitting young job-seekers especially hard.

The BBC's Tom Burridge in Madrid says several of the capital's main avenues were packed with demonstrators on Sunday.

There were calls for a general strike, and our correspondent says that is likely to be the unions' next option. But it is something the Spanish government is desperate to avoid.

The government insists the reforms will create a more flexible system for businesses and workers, in a country with a stagnant economy that needs to start creating jobs.

Barcelona saw the second largest rally - about 400,000 according to the unions, while the Catalan Interior Department put the crowd at 30,000.

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