By Cristiano Corvino
ROME (Reuters) - Thousands of workers and unemployed people marched in Rome on Saturday to protest against record unemployment and call on Enrico Letta's two-month-old government to deliver more than empty rhetoric on the issue.
The rally, organized by the country's three largest union confederations, CGIL, CISL and UIL, was the first major protest since Letta's broad, left-right coalition took office following an inconclusive election in February.
Italian unemployment hit 12 percent in April, the highest level on record, and joblessness among people under 24 is at an all-time high above 40 percent.
Union chiefs, speaking before a flag-waving crowd estimated at more than 100,000 by the organizers, criticized Letta for what they called a lack of action on an urgent problem.
"We can't accept these continuous promises that aren't translated into decisions that give a change of direction," said Susanna Camusso, leader of the country's largest union CGIL.
Luigi Angeletti, head of the UIL, said the country could not afford the piecemeal approach to policy adopted so far, especially when the ruling coalition is so fragile.
"In a country where the main concern is betting on how long the government will last, the message is that there is no more time for promises and announcements," he said in Piazza San Giovanni, the traditional venue of left-wing protests.
Letta's cabinet is due to unveil a package aimed at tackling youth unemployment next week, but Angeletti said the measures being mooted, such as tax breaks for firms hiring young people, were "useless".
Italy's economy has contracted in every quarter since mid-2011 - its longest post-war recession - and companies are steadily shedding staff.
The unionists called on the government to intervene to prevent plans by white goods maker Indesit to lay off 1,400 workers in one of the most recent labor disputes.
"Indesit isn't in crisis, it just wants to use its profits to make investments in Turkey and Poland," Camusso said.
One marcher, Lorenzo Giuseppe, told Reuters he had turned out "to send a message to the government that jobs have to be the top issue on the agenda. If we have work we can move ahead."
Millions of Italians are so convinced they have no chance of finding work that they have given up looking altogether, meaning official figures severely understate the number of unemployed, according to national statistics office ISTAT.
(Additional reporting and writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)