By H. Carter and Nigel Davies

PALMA AND MADRID
THE Secretary General of the Balearic UGT, General Workers' Union, Lorenzo Bravo, told a rally in Minorca yesterday that his national body will “do what ever is necessary” to halt the government's labour reforms which include hiking the retirement age from 65 to 67.

Bravo was responding to defiant claims by the Spanish Labour Minister Celestino Corbacho said on Sunday.
The government is already facing a wave of mass protests and possible strike action against the reforms but over the weekend, Corbacho said in an interview with daily El Pais the government would not be prepared to withdraw the proposal even if it saw a social response strongly against it.

WITHDRAW
Labour unions have planned demonstrations against the proposed change across the country starting on February 22. “The government is not going to withdraw the proposal. It is necessary to have this debate,” he said, adding that consensus would be sought.
Corbacho said the world was anxiously watching to see how Spain's social security reforms developed and it was necessary to begin debating an extension to the working age given the forecast increase in retired people over the next 25 years.

Spain has been fighting to assure markets that it is capable of meeting its target of bringing down its deficit to an EU guideline of 3 percent by 2013 from 11.4 percent in 2009.

Corbacho said he was not afraid of the once-strong relations with labour unions souring further over the proposals and repeating his call for dialogue on the matter.

In a separate interview with ABC newspaper, Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, head of Spain's largest labour union CCOO, repeated the group's stance. “The government's proposal to push back the retirement age is unnecessary and unfair,” Toxo said.
He would not be pushed to say if the planned protests could escalate into the full-scale strikes seen in Greece against its government's planned austerity measures but said the union would defend what the “majority” of society wanted to see.

PROBLEM
Minister Corbacho also said the government wanted to stop firms, especially those that received government help, from letting people retire early. “There is a cultural problem in this country. “We need to get to a place where it's seen as bad to let people retire at say 54 years old,” he said.
The government plans to hold three-way talks with labour unions and business groups in the coming weeks, aimed at tackling the country's close to 20 percent unemployment rate.

But, it is not only the unions which opposed the pension reforms, but the majority of the general public do as well and many are expected to join the marches.