Spanish Government Proposes Holiday Shuffle


(Photo: Jose J./Flickr)

Spain's government announced Friday that its budget deficit is much larger than expected. New Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also unveiled a slew of surprise tax hikes and wage freezes.

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That's in addition to other controversial proposals, like cutting education funding.

But not everything Rajoy is doing to cut spending and increase productivity is raising hackles: He's also pushing for a sort of "holiday shuffle."

Spain has 14 holiday days per year. That's two or three more than what Americans have. In the prime minister's quest to boost productivity, he isn't suggesting eliminating any holidays. Just moving them.

Rajoy told parliament last week that he's going to make Spain's work calendar more rational. He said, that means dealing with the high costs associated with extra-long weekends.

"We're going to move mid-week holidays to Mondays," he said.

Many of Spain's holidays are like July 4th. They're 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 just take Monday off, calling in sick. This month Spain had two such "four-day" weekends. That's not including the week off at Christmas. When you add it all up, Spaniards took off nearly half of December.

Hardly what a flat economy like Spain's needs, at least according to Spain's business leaders.

They're behind the push to eliminate the extra-long weekends. What's surprising is that labor unions aren't up in arms. In fact most working Spaniards are taking it in stride.

Take Victor Garcia, a door to door salesman in Barcelona. He 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 Spaniards have such high unemployment, and job insecurity as it is and 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 faced criticism during this economic crisis for supposedly not working hard enough. Rajoy's proposal no doubt seeks to counter that claim.

But is it true that southern Europeans are slackers, while Northern Europeans are more industrious? Earlier this year German Chancellor Angela Merkel assumed it was. She 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. That's according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

So why is Northern Europe more wealthy, less in debt? Some suggest that thrift makes the difference. Germans tend to save, while Spaniards have gone on a big borrow-and-spend spree.

With fewer days off under Rajoy's plan, Spaniards may spend less. But there are obstacles to phasing out the four-day weekends. Spain's powerful tourism industry is grumbling because Spaniards would spend fewer nights in resorts and hotels. And then there's the church.

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