Italy truckers block roads, protest against Monti reforms

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.

Speaking on RAI state radio, Interior Minister Annamaria Cancellieri said authorities were following the protests "with close attention".

"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 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 an increase in fuel taxes that added 8.2 cents to the price of a litre of petrol, now about 1.76 euro a litre, and 11.2 cents to a litre of diesel, now 1.71 euro a litre.

On Friday the cabinet signed off on a package of measures that will affect sectors ranging from pharmacies and banks to notaries, taxi drivers and petrol stations.

The measures, which may still be modified and must still be approved in parliament, have been bitterly opposed by many of the groups affected and aroused growing 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 in Rome and other cities resumed a strike against proposals to increase the number of operators' licences, causing problems at Fiumicono airport and the main Termini railway station.

In another leg of the reform programme, ministers are due to meet unions on Monday to continue discussions on reforming labour contracts 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.

[Source: Reuters, Rome, 23Jan12]

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