efe-epaBuenos Aires

Argentine government workers on Thursday launched a nationwide general strike to protest salary reductions and layoffs being carried out by President Mauricio Macri's administration, saying those policies were shrinking the public sector.

As part of the job action, organized by the Association of State Workers (ATE), the Argentine Workers' Central Union (CTA) and leftist political and labor organizations, dozens of people began gathering early Thursday to block roads and participate in other small-scale protests.

Those demonstrations were merely a prelude to a mass march early Thursday afternoon to the Plaza de Mayo, a large square in downtown Buenos Aires near the presidential palace.

"We're mobilizing against the layoffs and pay cuts in several state sectors," an ATE spokesperson told EFE.

That union of public-sector workers has called for demonstrations in different parts of the country.

It said the government was justifying its actions by citing the need to reduce a large budget deficit, but it warned the measures would "get rid of a bunch of sectors that (contribute to) scientific and cultural development."

In that regard, the ATE referred to the recent closure of the National Ballet of the Dance, a move that left 50 dancers out of work, and to 250 layoffs at the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI).

The unions also are demanding the scrapping of planned changes to the country's labor laws and the repeal of a controversial pension overhaul, which Congress passed in December despite a strong social pushback and the staunch rejection by the political opposition.

Those organizations moreover are denouncing Macri's moves to revamp the country's public health care system and cut teachers' salaries, as well as austerity measures they say are now targeting public media outlets.