Unions protest Spanish labor reforms
February 19, 2012 -- Updated 2109 GMT (0509 HKT)
- NEW: "There's no future for young people here," says a protester
- Demonstrators pack the streets of Madrid, marching against labor reform measures
- Government officials say the labor reforms will reduce unemployment
- About 5.2 million people in Spain are jobless
Madrid (CNN) -- Spain's largest unions carried out mass protests across the country Sunday in response to labor-market changes announced by the government.
Protesters packed the streets of Madrid, marching against measures they said will make it cheaper and easier to fire workers.
Sunday's demonstrations were the first major union protests against Spain's new conservative government, which took office two months ago.
Spain's unemployment rate is nearly 23%, and its youth unemployment rate is nearly 50%. About 5.2 million people in the country are jobless.
Last week Spain's parliament approved the labor reforms, which the nation's Cabinet approved earlier this month.
Government officials have argued that the new labor reforms will reduce unemployment and give workers more rights, such as an annual 20-hour paid leave for training.
"We don't think that. We think unemployment will increase because these reforms directly attack workers," said Ismael Cabrera, a protester.
Demonstrators said the reforms -- which also reduce the amount of severance employers must pay -- will further cripple the country.
Pedro Munoz, a welder, said he was marching Sunday because he was worried about his grandchildren's future.
Business administration student Raquel Tapia Solascasas carried a large pair of cardboard scissors, protesting cutbacks in education.
"They offer you internships for a year and they fire you without severance pay. There's no future for young people here," she said.
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