World News

Thousands of Italians protest bleak job outlook

ROME (Reuters) - Tens of thousands Italians marched in Rome on Saturday in a rally organised by Italy’s largest union to protest bleak job prospects and demand more rights for workers.

Students who have been staging demonstrations in various Italian cities against a university reform currently before parliament joined the peaceful march in central Rome, bringing traffic to a halt.

Waving red flags and banners, the protesters accused Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government of cutting welfare and education spending while doing little to spur economic growth and employment.

“In two years, this government has done nothing for jobs,” Susanna Camusso, leader of Italy’s biggest union CGIL, told the rally. “Now they must provide answers and carry out policies to fight the crisis.”

Spending cuts and a tight fiscal stance have helped Italy weather the financial crisis better than many of its European peers, and the euro zone’s third largest economy has avoided the market turmoil that has hit countries like Greece and Ireland.

Divisions among the country’s unions have also prevented the kind of labour unrest seen in some other European nations.

However, Saturday’s protest comes at a difficult time for Berlusconi, who faces a confidence vote on December 14 that could lead to early elections.

His government has been weakened by a series of corruption and sex scandals, coalition infighting and sluggish economic growth at a time when Italy is only slowly emerging from its worst post-war recession.

The unemployment rate stood at 8.3 percent in September, below a 10.1 percent average for the euro zone, but the Bank of Italy says the Italian rate would be above 11 percent if it included workers sent home on reduced pay and discouraged job-seekers who have given up the search for work.

Reporting by Cristiano Corvino and Fabio Severo; editing by Noah Barkin