Berlusconi furious at unions' strike call

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The Independent Online

Italy's three largest unions called a general strike yesterday over proposals aimed at loosening the country's rigid labour laws and making it easier to dismiss employees.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, insisted after the 16 April action was announced that he would press ahead with the reforms. The unions "can have no veto power," the angry conservative premier said.

"The government is very open to dialogue with everyone. But we must take note that not everybody wants dialogue."

The unions and the government have been battling for months over employment laws. Tensions rose last week after the assassination of Marco Biagi, a top government adviser working on the reforms. The leftist Red Brigades terrorist group claimed responsibility.

Mr Berlusconi referred yesterday to the government proposals as the "Marco Biagi reforms," and said he would not be deterred by the attack. "These reforms are the only possible response," he said.

Business leaders say the changes are essential for Italy to compete in Europe. However, unions and leftist parties say that the legislation makes it too easy to off-load employees.

Talks scheduled for yesterday were called off when the three unions, representing 5.4 million workers, took offence at comments by members of Berlusconi's coalition.