Thousands protest government layoffs in Puerto Rico - AP/guardian.co.ukShare
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Thousands protest government layoffs in Puerto Rico - AP/guardian.co.uk
Tens of thousands of workers shut down San Juan's financial district today as they marched to protest the impending layoffs of 30,000 government employees.
Clutching banners and banging tambourines, the protesters blasted the island's newly elected governor Luis Fortuno on his plan that would save $2bn (Â£1.8bn) a year to defuse a budget deficit and affect about 14% of the public work force.
The work stoppage organised by five of Puerto Rico's largest labour unions froze public transportation, interrupted classes and shuttered dozens of offices.
"We have decided to suspend our work to ... demand something very simple: that no one be laid off," said teachers' union leader Rafael Feliciano.
He was among the estimated 20,000 protesters who began to gather in front of the department of labour. Several of them had strapped on face masks and wore T-shirts that said "Fortuno, worse than swine flu."
The layoffs would begin in July. They come as the US territory enters its third year of recession and the unemployment rate reaches 15%.
Workers have a right to protest, but the plan is still in place, said department of labour secretary Miguel Romero. "I will make sure it happens," he said. "The government payroll has to be drastically reduced."
Employers had until Monday to accept voluntary buyouts or risk being fired. The government has not said how many chose to do so.
The protests come two days after Fortuno presented a $7.7bn budget that aims to cut a $3.2bn deficit. Fortuno promised improvements in the health, education and public safety sectors but did not offer specific projects or say how they would be financed.
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