Business, Finance & Economics

Spain trying to improve economy by moving around its holiday

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New Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is proposing to move the country's holidays so they always fall on a Monday. (Photo by Flickr user europeanpeoplesparty, cc-by-sa.)

On Friday, new Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy unveiled a slew of hikes and wage freezes to deal with a much larger than expected budget deficit.

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He also has proposals to cut education funding. But not every thing Rajoy is doing is so controversial: He’s also pushing for a sort of “holiday shuffle.”

Spain has 14 holidays per year. In the prime minister’s quest to boost productivity, he isn’t suggesting eliminating holidays, but he does want to move them.

Rajoy told parliament last week that he’s going to make Spain’s work calendar more rational by reducing extra-long weekends.

“We’re going to move mid-week holidays to Mondays,” he said.

Many of Spain’s holidays are pegged to a date. So they can fall mid-week, for instance, on a Tuesday. When that happens, many companies give workers the Monday off. Or people take Monday off. This month, Spain had two “four-day” weekends, not including the week off at Christmas. When you add it all up, Spaniards took off nearly half of December.

Spain’s business leaders say that's the worst prescription for the ailing economy.

They’re behind the push to eliminate the extra-long weekends. Surprisingly, labor unions aren’t against the proposal. In fact most working Spaniards are taking it in stride.

Victor Garcia, a door-to-door salesman in Barcelona, said he’s enjoyed the informal perk of stretching out a long weekend. But he can live without it.

In principle, he said, abolishing the four-day long holiday weekend is a good idea. He thinks because Spain has such high unemployment and job insecurity, they’ve got to turn things around somehow.

“Working together, we’ve got to try,” he said.

In a nearby pharmacy, owner Dioni Hernandez said Spaniards have enough time off as it is.

“For every holiday we’re closed we lose a minimum of 3 per cent of our monthly business. If when there’s more than one holiday in a month, we really start to get hurt,” said Hernandez.

Spain and other southern European countries have been criticized during the economic crisis for not working hard enough. Rajoy’s proposal no doubt seeks to counter that claim.

Earlier this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel scolded her southern neighbors for taking more vacation than Germans while asking Germany to bail them out.

Merkel got beat up for her comments. Turns out workers in Spain, Italy and Greece on average put in more hours per year than Germans do, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

 Some suggest that thrift makes the difference in why northern countries like Germany are more wealthy than southern nations right now. Germans tend to save, while Spaniards borrow and spend.

There are still obstacles to phasing out the four-day weekends. Spain’s powerful tourism industry is grumbling because Spaniards might spend fewer nights in resorts and hotels. And the church is upset as well.

Some important religious holidays, such as the Assumption of Mary fall on the same date each year. The government proposal to peg it to a Monday would require the blessing not only of Spanish church officials but of the Vatican itself.