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'Holy alliance' in Italy protests against working on Sundays

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(ROME) - Trade unions held small protests across Italy and the Catholic Church voiced its support on Sunday as part of a Europe-wide campaign against allowing more businesses to stay open on Sundays.

Susanna Camusso, the leader of Italy's biggest trade union, CGIL, joined picketers outside a Rome shopping centre and there were similar demonstrations around the country including street parties in Florence, Milan and Pisa.

"Liberalising businesses by opening them seven days a week does not increase consumption but it has an impact on the material conditions of workers with ever harsher shifts and increased demands on flexibility," Camusso said.

"A Priceless Day" read the headline of an editorial in Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, which hailed the formation a new "holy alliance" between Catholic communities and trade unions on the issue.

"Workers are stressed out by unworkable shifts and the unimaginable difficulties of spending time with their families and taking Sundays not just as a day of rest but of personal reflection," it said.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti introduced a reform as part of an austerity package passed in December last year that allows businesses to decide their own working hours, including the possibility of 24-hour opening.

Italy's three main trade unions, CGIL, CISL and UIL, which are already campaigning against government plans to make it easier to fire workers, said in a statement that Sunday openings would lead to "worse economic conditions."

The mobilisation in Italy was part of the European Day for a Work-Free Sunday, a campaign called by the European Sunday Alliance, a network of trade unions, civil society organisations and religious communities.

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