An estimated 100,000 workers and jobless people have marched in Rome to protest against record unemployment and call on Enrico Letta's new government to deliver more than empty rhetoric on the issue.

Saturday's rally, organised  by Italy's three largest union confederations, CGIL, CISL and UIL, was the first major protest since Letta's broad, left-right coalition took office after 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.

The protesters demanded growth measures and protection for workers who are sent into pre-retirement without a pension.

Union chiefs including Susanna Camusso, leader of the country's largest union CGI, criticised 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," Camusso said.

The government released $4bn last week for infrastructure projects to create 30,000 jobs.

But 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.

Job search 'futile'

"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.

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 labour disputes.

"Indesit isn't in crisis, it just wants to use its profits to make investments in Turkey and Poland," Camusso said.

Millions of Italians are so convinced the search to successfully find work is so futile they have given up looking, so official figures severely understate the number of unemployed, according to national statistics office ISTAT.

Letta said the new measures the government would introduce, based on recommendations from the European Union commission, would help Italians contribute to restarting the moribund economy.

Italy's government has yet to completely solve the problem of 'esodati', workers who pre-retired with a promise of a pension, under the most recent government of Silvio Berlusconi and found themselves without a job and a pension, owing to new retirement measures taken by Mario Monti's government.

Source: Agencies