Spanish Labour Minister Fatima Banez defended the conservative government\'s labour reforms on Sunday after unions called for mass protests over the measures, which they say will destroy jobs. \"These are reforms that will increase flexibility so that, faced with difficulties, businesses can adapt to the economic reality and so that lay-offs can be a measure of last resort,\" she said in an interview with the ABC daily. \"Obviously, the rights of workers will remain intact,\" she said, adding that she hoped the reforms would put the brakes on the \"haemorrhaging\" labour market. The interview came a day after Spain\'s two biggest unions called for nationwide protests on February 19 to protest the reforms that they say will destroy jobs. Spain\'s conservative government on Friday slashed employees\' maximum severance pay as part of sweeping labour reforms to confront a jobless rate of nearly 23 percent. Youth unemployment stands at nearly 50 percent. Under the reforms, sacked employees will receive 33 days of severance pay per year worked, and only 20 days\' worth in financially driven layoffs, compared with the current 45 days. Hundreds of people protested in Madrid late Friday against the reforms, the latest of a string of demonstrations against austerity measures. Unemployment has tripled since 2007, when it dropped to a low of 7.95 percent a year before a property bubble implosion that laid waste to millions of jobs in the construction sector. The socialist opposition slammed what it called a \"demolition of labour, a demolition of workers\' rights.\" \"This reform not only will not improve the conditions for those who don\'t have jobs today, it will make conditions worse for those who have one,\" said Oscar Lopez, the Socialist Party\'s organisation secretary. UGT union boss Ignacio Fernandez Toxo said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy \"holds in his hands\" the power to avoid a general strike through negotiations. Banez was due to meet on Monday with the union leaders, who also plan to meet with opposition leader Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba. The head of Spain\'s main employers\' federation the CEOE, Juan Rosell, told ABC that the reforms were \"an indispensable step forward, very well received\" in what he called a \"dire\" situation. Two in three Spaniards believe their country urgently needs \"deep labour reforms\" to boost competitivity, according to an opinion survey by Metroscopia commissioned by the centre-left daily El Pais but conducted before the reforms were unveiled. More than half -- 51 percent -- of those surveyed who had jobs said they would observe a general strike if the reforms passed without the backing of the unions. Rajoy\'s government earlier announced fiscal reforms targetting a zero deficit by 2020 and banking sector reforms aimed at cleaning up doubtful property loans.