ROME - Ryanair has cancelled dozens of flights in and out of Italy on Friday as the country braces for a strike called by several trade union organisations over the government's economic policy.
The main target of the action called by three union groupings is Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's emblematic Jobs Act, legislation approved this month which aims to shake up Italy's labour market by making it easier for companies to hire and fire.
The law makes it easier for companies to shed staff without having to pay high severance payments, particularly for recently employed workers.
Its supporters say that the controversial provision is balanced by reforms designed to restrict the widespread use of temporary contracts which condemn millions of workers to a permanently precarious state of employment. They also argue that more flexibility in the labour market will help cut unemployment from its current record levels.
The unions are also up in arms over cuts to public spending forseen in the 2015 budget, which they see as dampening a recession-bound economy.
"The combination of the two (jobs act and budget) does not promote employment or encourage companies to invest," said Susanna Camusso, Secretary General of the CGIL confederation, the biggest and most militant of the union groupings.
More than 50 protests have been scheduled in towns and cities across the country and public transport is expected to be severely affected by the strike.
Italy has been in the economic doldrums almost permanently since it became one of the founding members of Europe's single currency zone in 1999.
The current recession is the third in seven years and unemployment among 15-25 year olds now stands at an unprecedented 43 per cent. Figures released this week indicated that the weak economy sent emigration to a ten-year high in 2013 and anecdotal evidence suggests even more people have quit the country this year.
Two of the main opposition parties now support withdrawal from the euro and it is conceivable they could force a referendum on the issue.