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Spanish civil servants protest wage cuts, sales tax increase

  • Civil service workers rally at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol.

MADRID: Spanish civil servants, some dressed in mourning, took to the streets Friday to protest the latest round of government austerity measures and their second wage cut in as many years.

Several hundred workers left the complex of government ministries in Madrid and blocked traffic briefly Friday. In the eastern city of Valencia, several hundred Justice Ministry workers shouted “hands up, this is a stick-up” at a protest rally.

The civil servants – who saw their wages cut 5 percent on average in 2010 in the first round of austerity cuts – are usually paid 14 times a year. The government is proposing to axe an extra payment normally made just before Christmas.

The cuts are part of a raft of austerity measures unveiled by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy designed to shave 65 billion euro ($79.5 billion) off the government’s budget through 2015.

The prime minister’s Cabinet was scheduled to meet Friday in order to approve the wage cut and other austerity measures.

The cuts, which also include a sales tax increase and overhaul of benefits, were unveiled after Spain won approval from the other 16 countries that use the euro for the first 30 billion euro tranche of a bailout for its troubled banking sector.

Spain also managed to secure an extra year to meet a European deficit reduction target of 3 percent of GDP.

In the Puerta del Sol in downtown Madrid, about 500 civil servants gathered, about half of them dressed in black. Some women wore veils, as if they were at funerals. Protesters blew whistles and horns.

Civil servants are often ridiculed in Spain and seen as lazy, clock-in and clock-out types with the luxury of a job for life. However, many earn as little as 1,000 euro a month.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 14, 2012, on page 5.
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