* Protests set to escalate against Monti deregulation
* Pharmacists, gas stations, lawyers, public transport plan
* Govt meets unions to discuss labour market reforms
By Hanna Rantala
ROME, Jan 23 Truckers blocked roads
throughout Italy and taxi drivers resumed a strike on Monday as
opposition mounted to fuel tax rises and economic reforms aimed
at opening up competition in protected sectors including
transport and pharmacies.
Roads and highways from Gioia Tauro in southern Calabria to
Turin in the north were hit as truckers extended a protest
against rises in fuel prices that caused severe disruption in
Sicily last week.
The protests are set to escalate, as numerous labour
categories affected by the measures, including railway workers,
petrol station owners, pharmacists and lawyers have announced
strikes over the next few weeks.
Carmaker Fiat, Italy's largest manufacturer, said
it would halt production for four days from Tuesday in four
plants in the central and southern parts of the country because
the truckers strike prevented the arrival of necessary
Speaking on RAI state radio, Interior Minister Annamaria
Cancellieri said authorities were following the protests
"We cannot rule out this discontent leading to protests of a
different kind," she said, in an apparent concern that the
situation could get out of control.
The protests underline the growing opposition to Prime
Minister Mario Monti's plans, approved by the cabinet on Friday,
to deregulate protected sectors of Italy's economy to boost
competition and create more jobs.
The measures come on top of tough spending cuts and tax
rises passed by parliament in December, including a fuel tax
increase that pushed the price of petrol up 8.2 cents a litre to
about 1.76 euros and that of diesel up 11.2 cents to 1.71 euros.
The reforms, which may be modified and must still be
approved in parliament, have been bitterly opposed by many of
the groups affected and are arousing opposition from political
parties on whom Monti depends for support.
The truckers' demands include easier rules on claiming
reimbursement of excise duty on fuel, caps on insurance costs
and a crackdown on unlicensed transport operators.
Taxi drivers stepped up recent wildcate protests against
plans to increase the number of operators' licences, holding a
nationwide strike on Monday which caused problems at Rome's
Fiumicino airport and the main Termini railway station.
"Our taxi ranks are already full of taxis, if we get more
drivers where will they go?" said Ennio, one of scores of
drivers blocking the area around Circus Maximus, the ancient
Roman chariot ring, under a banner reading: "Help stop the
madman Mario Monti and his clique".
In another leg of the reform programme, ministers met unions
on Monday to continue discussions on reforming labour rules
which are blamed for discouraging companies from offering new
workers full time contracts.
The issue is among the most sensitive facing Monti, who has
pledged to overhaul a system accused of giving iron-clad
guarantees to some categories of workers while condemning a
growing army of mainly young people to precarious short-term
contracts with little protection.