The Guardian / Sam Jones in Madrid
Catalonia has moved a step closer to abandoning the long working hours and protracted lunch breaks that have tested Spaniards’ powers of endurance for more than seven decades, by adopting an initiative intended to reset people’s work-life balance.
On Monday, an alliance of 110 companies, trade unions, educational groups and social activists signed up to a working hours reform pact, which aims to make the working day shorter, more flexible and more compact.
Workers in Spain tend to start their day around 9am, break for coffee mid-morning and then work until 2pm. The lunch break lasts two or three hours, after which they return to work until 8pm or later.
Such a late finish means that dinner isn’t eaten before 9pm. Add in a couple of hours of TV to help wind down, and people end up going to bed well after midnight.
Fabian Mohedano, a spokesman for Reforma Horària, the group behind the pact, said the long and disjointed working day was affecting people’s wellbeing and family lives.
“The analysis is all very simple,” he said. “We have a problem with our working hours, which have a direct impact on our health.
“Why? Because of circadian rhythms and because we’re stopped doing what millions of people do all over the world: eating breakfast early in the morning, having lunch between 12pm and 2pm; eating dinner between 7pm and 9pm. We don’t eat breakfast in the morning as we’ve gone to bed on a full stomach because we’ve eaten dinner so late the night before.”
Mohedano said the length of the working day also affected children, many of whom take part in after-school activities late into the evening because their parents are still at work.
“Faced with this apocalyptic analysis, what we’re proposing is a social agreement – born three-and-a-half years ago – that sees this country’s hours changed from top to bottom,” he said.
“We’ve done awareness-raising and pilot projects and what we’ve done today is get a big social pact signed with trade unions, management, the educational community and campaigners for improved free time.”
He said that Catalonia aimed to have a public policy in place by 2025 that would enable people to work more flexibly and more productively.
Spain was in the same time zone as the UK and Portugal until 1942, when Gen Francisco Franco shifted the clocks forward an hour in solidarity with Hitler’s Germany.
“If we’ve changed things in the past, then we can change them again,” said Mohedano. “We’re trying to build a dam to stop the working day getting longer. We’ve been stretching out the working day for the past 20 or 30 years, making things later and later.”
The main thing, he added, was to rebalance the day: “We need to get back to the idea that midday is 12pm. But here, midday is 3pm. That’s the whole point.”
Three years ago, a Spanish parliamentary commission recommended shifting Spain back into its former time zone and introducing a more regular, 9-to-5 day. Last December the employment minister, Fátima Báñez, announced plans to let Spaniards finish work as 6pm.