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All change for Spanish hours?
thinkSPAIN , Friday, September 27, 2013

Country may go back an hour in time and adopt UK office hours

SPAIN is considering moving into another time-zone – that of the UK, Portugal and Morocco – and adopting a more European system of working hours in a radical shake-up of the country's traditional way of life.

Experts claim residents in Spain are living in 'a permanent state of jet lag' because of their clocks being an hour ahead of the time which would normally correspond with the country's latitude – and they say the long lunch hour and late evening finish is responsible for low productivity and poor family life.

Back in 1942, the dictator General Franco – an ally of Adolf Hitler – moved the clocks forward to coincide with Central European Time (CET, or CEST in summer) so that Spain and Germany were on the same time-lag.

This means that whilst the sun is in its most central position at noon, in Spain it is so at 13.00hrs, or 14.00hrs in summer when the clocks are moved forward.

It also means instead of eating lunch and dinner at 13.00hrs and 20.00hrs, as the rest of Europe and most of the world appear to do, Spaniards start lunch between 14.00hrs and 15.00hrs, and start eating dinner at either 21.00hrs or 22.00hrs.

With mainland Spain and the Balearics on GMT – the same time-zone as the Canary Islands, also part of Spain, plus its nearest neighbours Portugal and Morocco and also the UK, Spanish people's body clocks would return to more streamlined hours without the late evening meals and shops and offices closing at 20.30hrs.

And whilst medics constantly warn of the dangers of the midday sun, it is in fact the 14.00hrs sun which people in Spain should avoid.

Following expert advice, the PP is also considering restructuring working hours and scrapping the long lunch hour, which can extend from between three and four-and-a-half hours.

A full report has been presented to Alfonso Alonso, Congress leader and Luis de Guindos, minister for the economy, showing that Spanish working hours and the fact that they are an hour ahead of their 'natural' geographic time is detrimental to quality of life and the family.

Office workers typically finish at around 14.00hrs and return to work at 17.00hrs until 20.00hrs, or sometimes half an hour or so later.

Many shops and even bars and restaurants outside of main towns – sometimes even in touristy areas – close at 13.00hrs and do not reopen until 17.30hrs.

This means workers are unable to take advantage of their lunch hours to carry out necessary administration or purchases and, on Saturdays, when many retailers close at 13.00hrs and do not reopen in the afternoon, they have just three hours in the morning to enjoy their weekend indulging in retail therapy or buy necessary goods – for these reasons, the report claims residents in Spain who work are always rushing around in their limited free time to catch shops and businesses, and struggle to find time to care for their children.

In many towns, with bars and restaurants closed, workers cannot get a meal during their long lunch hours unless they go home to cook it.

Supermarkets and indoor shopping centres do not tend to close for lunch, but are open until between 20.00hrs and 22.00hrs daily.

This system was originally set up because for workers in the fields in June, July, August and sometimes September, it is dangerous to be in the sun between 13.00hrs and 17.30hrs, and offices and shops were sweltering during this time.

Now, however, with business premises having air-conditioning – and heating for the winter months – taking the afternoon off and working into the night is not necessary, say experts.

A taskforce in Brussels, as well as experts in Spain, say finishing work so late – especially after having most of the afternoon off and relaxing – is damaging to productivity and, whilst everywhere is closed in the afternoons when people have time on their hands to provide them with business, the split day actually means people work much longer hours than elsewhere in Europe where 'intense' daily hours are the norm.

The working group has proposed a maximum clocking-off time for offices and most shops of 18.00hrs, meaning people would be free to spend the evenings with their families and friends, relaxing, taking part in hobbies or going to night school to acquire new qualifications.

They would then have approximately an hour for lunch in the middle of the day.

Primary school children take lunch between noon and 14.00hrs and finish their day at 17.00hrs, and high school pupils normally work through from 08.00hrs to 14.00hrs or 15.00hrs with just a short snack break, meaning parents and children literally pass like ships in the night and do not meet on home ground until past 21.00hrs.

As a result, children go to bed much later, causing their schoolwork to suffer, and parents are also sleep-deprived since they have less than 12 hours between clocking off from work and leaving again the next morning.

Experts have said it is 'ridiculous' having major League football matches televised at 22.00hrs, especially on working nights, since it means late nights and sleep deprivation.

The national TV and radio board, the RTVE, has tentatively agreed and said it will reconsider programme slots.

Statistics show that people in Spain, particularly the workforce and those with children, sleep an average of 53 minutes a night less than their European counterparts.

The standard working week is 40 hours, split over eight-hour daily shifts which in fact cover a total of up to 12 hours, something the government – and many large companies – consider responsible for poor performance, lack of concentration, employee stress and absenteeism.

Electricity board Iberdrola and Madrid city council are among the employers which, some years ago, introduced European or UK-style office hours so that their staff could get home earlier.

But the government says one of the first steps is getting companies to cooperate, comply with employee legislation, stop exploiting workers by forcing them to put in longer hours than necessary, and be more flexi­ble about their free time and family commitments.

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