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Argentina opposition lawmakers ready jobs bill

Argentine President Mauricio Macri heads to a news conference at the Olivos presidential residence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, May, 6, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Opposition lawmakers in Argentina could start debating as soon as Thursday a bill that would put a moratorium on job cuts for 180 days and guarantee generous redundancy payments for workers that are laid off, likely setting up a confrontation with President Mauricio Macri.

Free-markets proponent Macri has pushed through a string of painful reforms since taking the reins of Latin America’s third largest economy in December, aiming to close a gaping fiscal deficit and revive a stagnant economy, but fuelling the ire of public sector unions. Macri has warned that he could veto the bill.

“We don’t have to wait for the problem to keep growing ... If it’s not tomorrow, it’ll be Monday or Tuesday that the bill is sent to the floor (for debating and a vote),” said Marco Lavagna, lawmaker of the Frente Renovador opposition party.

Peronist opposition lawmakers, including former President Cristina Fernandez’s Frente para la Victoria party, have put forward different proposals that are being debated so that a unified bill can be voted on.

Bill proposals include plans to put a halt to private and public sector job cuts for six months and double redundancy payments for those workers that are actually laid off, a copy of the one of the bills seen by Reuters showed.

“I’m confident that we’re going to bring a bill to the floor (for voting) and are going to generate a consensus that results in a comprehensive bill,” said Lavagna.

As of mid-April, Macri’s efforts to trim government payrolls had closed a net 10,000 public sector jobs, while the private sector had also lost around 15,000 informal jobs and about 30,000 formal jobs.

Opposition lawmakers have warned that up to 150,000 jobs could be lost this year.

Macri asked business and union leaders on Monday to avoid layoffs for 90 days, as the centre-right leader faces heat for thousands of jobs lost under his watch.

Reporting by Nicolas Misculin and Anthony Esposito; Editing by Bernard Orr