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Spain Considering Shortening Working Hours

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October 20, 2013

A proposal before the Spanish Parliament would make a fundamental shift in the working (and eating) habits of Spaniards.

A recent report cited lower productivity and family time as two main consequences of the country's current lifestyle, which involves a much longer day than that experienced by people in other Western countries. The current Spanish practice is to start at a normal Western working time, like 9 a.m., but stop in the early afternoon for several hours of eating and/or resting (the famous "siesta"), before then going back to work and finishing much later than the typical Western 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. Indeed, many Spaniards normally work until 8 p.m.

Related is the current time zone for the country, which has been aligned with Eastern Europe for seven decades. The Spanish leader Francisco Franco decreed in 1942 that Spain's time zone would be the same as that of Nazi Germany, even though Spain is one time zone farther west, geographically similar to France and Portugal. Thus, many of the Spaniards working until 8 p.m. are working long after dark. And because so many businesses are open long after dark, electricity bills are higher than they might otherwise be, as lighting, computing, and heating systems are taxed for a few hours every working night longer than they would be in other Western countries.

A great many Spaniards in the 1940s also didn't have a lot of money and so had to work two jobs to survive. Such a working schedule was more of a fit for the split-day timetable then that it is today, when more Spaniards are working just one job and, theoretically, have more leisure time.

The tradition of late-night dinners and sporting events is kept up right across the country, with some football (soccer) matches not starting until 11 p.m., to accommodate the later working hours of many fans who would otherwise not be able to attend. Popular movies as well commonly screen very late at night, for the same reason.

Some big businesses have taken the lead in this area, setting working hours more in line with other Western countries. Madrid's town hall has been closing two hours earlier, at 5 p.m., for three years and has reported a 30-percent savings in electricity. Other businesses that have made similar shifts have reported rises in productivity and drops in workplace accidents.

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