Italians faced disruption on Friday as transport workers and other public sector employees from two of the country's largest unions went on strike in protest over the government's budget plans for 2024.

The CGIL and UIL unions have called a general strike in the central regions of Italy, as well as a walkout by public sector employees across the country. They are planning further regional protests in the next two weeks.

In a sign of tensions between the unions and the government, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini used his powers to halve the duration of the national stoppage by transport workers to four hours, from 9 am to 1 pm (0800-1200 GMT) to limit its impact. Air travel is not included in the strike plans.

"This grave step by Salvini is an attack on the right to strike that is unprecedented in Italian democracy," CGIL leader Maurizio Landini told la Repubblica newspaper in an interview published on Thursday.

Salvini, who is also transport minister, said he was making sure Italians could still go about their business on Friday.

"Yes there is the right to strike, but it's satisfying to protect the right to work for the overwhelming majority of Italians," he told broadcaster Rai's TG2 news programme on Thursday. "It's my job."

Striking workers are expected to hold a rally in Rome's central Piazza del Popolo to protest against Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's right-wing government.

Union leaders say the government is not doing enough to prevent workers and pensioners from being worse off at a time when prices are still rising.

They accuse the government, which took office last October, of pandering to its grassroots supporters with an eye on elections to the European Parliament next June.

Italy's government last month approved a budget for next year with measures worth around 24 billion euros ($26 billion) in tax cuts and increased spending, despite market concerns over the country's strained public finances.

($1 = 0.9212 euros) (Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Sharon Singleton)