Reuters International

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri gestures as he speaks during the opening session of the 134th legislative term at the Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina's opposition-controlled lower chamber of Congress on Thursday passed a bill to prevent layoffs in the public and private sectors, challenging the centre government's efforts to cut a gaping fiscal deficit and spur investment in the battered economy.

President Mauricio Macri, who took power in December on a pro-business platform, has already said he would veto the bill, arguing it would block the government's efforts to revive the economy and ultimately boost employment.

The bill passed the lower chamber 147 to 3, with 88 abstentions. The Senate, where no party has a majority, has already passed the legislation.

"This law hampers jobs creation," Marco Pena, the presidential chief of staff, said in a press conference on Wednesday evening.

Macri has pushed through painful reforms since taking the reins of Latin America's third largest economy, which is struggling with high inflation, a weak peso and lack of foreign investment. Public sector unions have opposed his moves.

The lower chamber discussed different versions of the bill, including plans to put a halt to private and public sector job cuts for six months and double redundancy payments for those workers that are laid off.

As of mid-April, Macri's government had trimmed a net 10,000 jobs from the public payroll, while the private sector has lost around 30,000 jobs and another 15,000 so-called "informal" jobs.

Opposition lawmakers have warned that up to 150,000 jobs could be lost this year.

(Reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi and Walter Bianchi; Writing by Anthony Esposito and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Paul Simao)

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